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29 April 2021

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

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

Good afternoon.  After my briefing, you will hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

**Cyprus

A few hours ago in Geneva, the Secretary-General concluded the informal 5+1 talks on the Cyprus issue.

At a press briefing, the Secretary-General said that they had conducted extensive consultations in a succession of bilateral meetings and plenary meetings in order to try to reach common ground.

He told journalists that they had not yet found enough common ground to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations, but he stressed that he has not given up.

“My agenda is very simple,” António Guterres said, “and that is to fight for the security and well-being of the Cypriots, of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, that deserve to live in peace and prosperity together.”

The next step, the Secretary-General added, is for him to convene, in the near future, another meeting of the 5+1 with the objective to move in the direction of reaching common ground to allow for formal negotiations to start.

That transcript was shared with you.

In addition to the Cyprus meetings, the Secretary-General also met staff representatives in Geneva.

He will be back in the office on Monday.

**Russian Federation

The Secretary-General will travel to Moscow next month, on 12 May, at the invitation of the Government of the Russian Federation.

**Libya

I wanted to provide you with an update on the recent work by the Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, who has been back in that country since Monday.  Mr. Kubiš is briefing the members of the Security Council in an informal session today.

In recent days, he has met with Libyan interlocutors and officials to advance the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement and the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) Roadmap, leading up to the holding of national elections on 24 December 2021.  That has included meetings with the country’s Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kubiš was received by the Joint Military Commission (JMC) at its Headquarters in Sirte.  The Special Envoy and the Joint Military Commission members held a fruitful exchange on a wide range of issues, notably focusing on how to advance the full implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement signed in Geneva on 23 October 2020.

**Ethiopia

Moving to Ethiopia:  Our colleagues tell us that the complex and unpredictable security situation continues to impede the freedom of humanitarian movement to reach people in need in the Tigray region.

Nearly six months into the conflict, most rural areas remain cut off from communications and electricity, impacting access to health services and water supply, among others.  Food insecurity remains dire, with an estimated 4.5 million people in need of food assistance across Tigray.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, continue to scale up our response, including identification and support to gender-based violence survivors.

Since the end of March, the World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed nearly 9,000 metric tons of food, reaching nearly 529,000 people in north-western and southern zones.  WFP have also distributed food to nearly 34,000 people in the towns of Edgahamus and Atsibi.  More than 700,000 people were reached with water trucking services last week.

So far, our partners have reached 285,000 displaced people with shelter and non-food items — only 10 per cent of the targeted population.  Meanwhile, the preparation of a displacement site in Mekelle with capacity for more than 19,000 people is ongoing, including building shelters, access roads and latrines.

Our humanitarian colleagues warn that the response remains inadequate to the needs.  Additional capacity, funds, as well as unimpeded and safe access, are needed to scale up to the level needed to respond across Tigray.

**Burundi

At the end of a two-day visit to Burundi, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said he was encouraged to see an increased focus on finding solutions for refugees, especially for Burundians.

Since 2017, at least 145,000 Burundian refugees have received help to return home.  On average, 2,000 people are being assisted to voluntarily return each week from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Tanzania.

The High Commissioner reiterated UNHCR’s commitment to continue facilitating the return of Burundian refugees.

In February, UNHCR, together with the Government of Burundi and 19 partners, launched the Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan.  The plan is seeking $104.3 million to assist returnees and the communities where they are returning.  It is less than 10 per cent funded.

**Madagascar

The World Food Programme (WFP) is telling us that unrelenting drought in southern Madagascar is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine.

At least 1.35 million people need emergency food and nutrition assistance.

Acute malnutrition in children under 5 has almost doubled over the last four months.  A recent assessment conducted by the Ministry of Health states that 16.5 per cent of children in the south are suffering from malnutrition.  In one district, the malnutrition rates have crossed 27 per cent.

Currently, up to 80 per cent of the population in certain areas in the south is resorting to desperate survival measures such as eating locusts, raw red cactus fruits or wild leaves.

The 2021 harvest prospects are poor.  Food production this year is expected to be less than 40 per cent of the last five-year average.

WFP has been progressively assisting up to 750,000 people through food and cash distributions each month.  The agency is calling for $74 million to finance operations for the next six months.

**COVAX — Albania

And I have a COVAX update:  Albania received its second shipment of COVAX doses earlier this month.

More than 430,000 people have been vaccinated in the country since January.  Albania will receive enough doses from COVAX to vaccinate 20 per cent of its population by the end of this year.

The UN team has helped with communications campaigns to boost vaccinations and prevent the spread of COVID-19.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) is supporting women who have been impacted by the pandemic, including by providing cash to women who lost their jobs in the textile industry.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has also been supporting education through an online platform geared towards the most vulnerable children, while the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been distributing food and counselling to refugees and others.

**COVID-19 — Bhutan

In Bhutan, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Gerald Daly, has helped the Government vaccinate everyone eligible in the country in one week, with 30 per cent of the people vaccinated within the first two days.

We fully support Bhutan’s equitable approach to the vaccination programme, with doses made available to every eligible resident — both citizens and non-citizens.

UNICEF helped authorities prepare for and apply for COVAX assistance, as well as procuring cold chain equipment and training health workers.  Our team also helped to develop the national vaccine plan and an online portal to register for vaccines.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) has helped to raise awareness on the importance of vaccinations.

**Timor-Leste

In the wake of heavy flooding in Timor-Leste, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Roy Trivedy, is continuing to support the Government’s response while also working to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN and our partners have provided more than $10 million for the flood response.  More than 30,000 households have been affected across the country and more than 2,000 hectares of farmland producing food have also been affected by the flooding.

Nearly 4,000 people remain temporarily displaced across the capital, Dili, alone.  Health and water and sanitation remains a priority.

**Canary Islands

The UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today warned of the continued increase of refugee and migrant deaths at sea after the latest reports of at least 17 people dying in the North Atlantic while attempting to reach the Canary Islands.

UNHCR and IOM noted that according to initial reports, the Spanish search-and-rescue teams came to the aid of a vessel in distress detected some 500 kilometres south of the Canary Island of El Hierro on 27 April afternoon.  A Spanish Air Force helicopter found only three survivors on board the vessel, two men and a woman, and 17 bodies on the deck of the boat.

The UN agencies noted that some 200 people are estimated to have lost their lives at sea this year along the route to the Canary Islands and the Western Mediterranean route to Spain.  Of those, nearly 90 perished at sea en route to the Canary Islands, including at least eight children and six women.

**UNFPA

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has been informed that the Government of the United Kingdom intends to implement an approximate 85 per cent cut to UNFPA Supplies, the UNFPA flagship programme for family planning, this year.

UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, said these cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world.

UNFPA recognizes the challenging situation facing many donor Governments, yet deeply regrets the decision of its long-standing partner and advocate to step away from its commitments at a time when inequalities are deepening, and international solidarity is needed more than ever.

UNFPA calls on all of its partners and allies to come together and secure the vitality of UNFPA Supplies and of all its programmes.

**Contributions

We would like to thank our friends in Bangladesh, Qatar and Uzbekistan who have paid their regular budget contributions in full.  This takes the number of fully paid-up Member States to 97.

And that is it for my part.  And before we turn to Brenden, we will take some questions.  Edie, you are first.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  I have two follow-ups.  First, Ján Kubiš and Libya.  You gave us a detailed description of whom he spoke to, but not about what he told the Council at this meeting.  What was his overall message?  We know it’s a closed meeting, but you can certainly give us some description of what he said?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Because it was a closed meeting, we weren’t able to share his remarks.  But at the same time what I can tell you is that he is continuing to brief the Council on his recent meetings, including the ones I just mentioned.  And he is talking about the need to keep all of the parties on track with the process of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in order to ensure that, ultimately, the elections that have been scheduled can take place as agreed on 24 December for this year.  And, of course, we also want the parties to fully implement the ceasefire agreement, and that will include taking all measures, including, of course, the ones regarding foreign forces on Libyan soil.

Question:  It would be very good if we could get a few more paragraphs on that meeting.  Also, on the Secretary-General’s visit to Russia, I know you said it’s at the invitation of the Russian Government.  Can you tell us what he hopes to achieve there?  We understand it’s a two-day visit?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  It is a two-day visit.  And, of, course as you know there are many issues of mutual concern that we have been dealing with Russia on, and we expect to take those up.  I believe that among those whom he will meet are… include the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.  And, of course, once we have those meetings, we will try to provide readouts of that.  Of course, that is a few weeks from now.  Okay, Kristen Saloomey and after you, Célhia.

Question:  Just a follow-up on Edie’s question on Ján Kubiš, is there anything specific on when the monitors, those 60 monitors might be deployed in Libya?  Is there a plan coming out of that, that would be nice to hear about as well if you have any information?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, beyond what Stéphane [Dujarric] has told you over in the past couple of weeks about the plans for the monitors, I can say that the progress is continuing in terms of identifying and getting the monitor in place.  But I don’t have a timeline for when the first monitors will arrive.  Once we are closer to that point, we will let you know.  And…

Question:  And then just, sorry, just any reaction on Alexei Navalny’s court appearance, looking very thin — does the SG have any concern about his medical care or any comment on how he’s looking and being cared for?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we have been following with concern all of the various reports concerning the health condition of Mr. Navalny and we continue to trust that the relevant authorities in Russia will ensure the provision of any required medical treatment for him.  And, of course, you’re aware of the previous concerns we’ve expressed about the overall situation in his case.  Célhia?

Question:  Farhan, not too long ago I asked Stéphane about the fact that China was asking for the name of their opponents to be given to them and UN, UN rights office give them the names.  Stéphane told me that it stopped on 2015.  However, I heard that it’s not true and it’s continuing.  So, could you please let us know if it’s the case?  Because if it’s the case, it’s really horrible.

Deputy Spokesman:  It is not the case.  We’ve seen these allegations periodically.  And what I can tell you, and we’ve checked repeatedly with the Human Rights Office, but it’s very clear that from 2015, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights ceased providing confirmation to Member States that individuals were accredited to attend sessions.  And we reject fully any allegations otherwise.

Question:  Moreover, I have a follow-up.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  Other countries have done so but the UN refused to give the names to the other countries.  So, why did they do that with China?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  The fact is that prior to 2006, it was a standard and long-standing practice where the names of those accredited to attend Human Rights Commission sessions be made available for consultation by Member States at the beginning of a session.  That procedure started… changed when the Human Rights Council was established in 2006.  And at that point, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stopped publishing the names of those accredited to attend Human Rights Council sessions in advance of the session.  Instead, what it did was that, in response to specific inquiries from Member States regarding named individuals, it would confirm the names of well-known activists for whom confirmation of their names provided no additional security risk.  So that was the procedure from 2006 until, like I said, 2015, when even that limited practice was ceased.  Okay.  Toby?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Will Christine Schraner Burgener, the Special Envoy for Myanmar, be briefing the Security Council in the informing meeting?  And, if so, what is she going to talk about?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, she will.  And, clearly, she will talk about her efforts regarding Myanmar, including, of course, the recent meetings that she took part in while she was in Jakarta.  And we will see what further details we can provide following that informal session.

Question:  Can we request, like, a stakeout or something like that or a press appearance or anything?  We are very interested to hear what she has to say.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay, well, since it’s an informal session, I wouldn’t expect we would be able to provide a stakeout.  But, like I said, we are in touch with her office, and we will try to provide as much detail as we can.

Question:  Just one final question for you on a different matter.  Reports of cross-border shelling in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, I believe.  I just saw these news snaps, but I’m wondering if this is a situation you are following?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  This is something that we are following with concern.  We have seen these reports, and we do follow this with concern.  We are also aware that there has been announcement by the two countries, by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, that a ceasefire has now been agreed.  If that is the case, that would be welcome, and we would encourage both sides to continue direct negotiation to resolve any outstanding issues in a peaceful manner.  Alan Bulkaty?

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

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  I have a first, first I have a follow-up on the visit of the SG to Moscow.  Does he have any plans to meet anybody besides Minister Lavrov, any officials, maybe President [Vladimir] Putin?  And is he going to discuss a US-Russia relations?  That is the first one.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, the relations between Russia and other key countries would be one of many different topics that could come up.  But I wouldn’t want to get too far ahead.  Like I said, the meeting is basically two weeks away and we will see what… how issues develop between now and then.  I don’t have any other meetings to confirm at this stage besides the one with the Foreign Minister.  I think a lot of the programme of his visits will be developed in the coming days and weeks.

Question:  Okay.  And I have a second question, please.  Given the fact that the New York authorities today decided to lift all the COVID restrictions beginning 1 July, does that mean that the GA…  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  I think some of your question cut off.  Could you repeat that, please?

Question:  Okay.  Given the sense that the New York authorities today take a decision to lift the COVID restrictions from July, does that mean that the GA high-level week will take place in a common forum; I mean, in an in-person format?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have anything to say at this stage about the format of the General Assembly.  That is being developed in consultation with Member States and we will develop that.  Also, to make sure that we are in compliance with the relevant regulations by both the City of New York and of the State of New York, I’m aware that this message that you just conveyed was from the City of New York.  And, with that, Abdelhamid, over to you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You might have mentioned it before, but my question about the statement issued by General [Khalifa] Haftar in Libya, that he is not in a state of recognition of the Government of National Unity (GNU).  In fact, he turned back a delegation from the Government of National Unity that arrived in Benghazi on Saturday and it was returned back in the same plane.  And apparently, he decided to go on his own without recognizing this Government.  Do you have any statement, what is the position of Mr. Kubiš on these?

Deputy Spokesman:  The position of Mr. Kubiš is that he continues to reach out to all the various parties on the ground, including the Libyan National Army and its affiliated groups to try to bring them together.  He has been in touch with all of the principal players, and he does believe that we will be able to move forward in terms of bringing the parties together, so that we can continue to abide by the road map developed by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.

Question:  Mr. Haq, the Security Council Resolution 2570 did not mention the Libyan National Army, no longer recognizing that army.  It referred to the National Government as the representative of the Libyan people and they ask all institutions to report to that Government.  So, this is a rebel; this is someone who is not in compliance with the UN resolution.  Why they don’t, you know, say that?  Why they don’t deal with him as such?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, it’s up to the Security Council in terms of how they ensure the implementation of the resolutions.  But for our part, as you know, as with all of our other diplomatic efforts around the world, we reach out to all the various de facto authorities in any particular dispute to make sure we can bring them all together and have a strong enforcement of the agreements that have been signed.  And that is what we will do in this case.

Now, I will turn it over to Benno for one more question before we turn to Brenden.  Benno?  [silence] I can’t hear you.  Hold on one sec, please make sure that there is volume in the room.  Benno back to you.

Question:  Test, test, test?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I can hear you.

Question:  Okay, thanks.  Just a quick follow-up to Alan’s question about opening up.  I mean, this country is on track to open up on 1 July and the city, as well.  Can we expect that the United Nations wants to repopulate their Headquarters by July, as well?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not going to hold us to any strict deadline.  What I will say is we are trying to step up our presence.  More staff are being vaccinated.  We do not have any change of phase to announce at this stage, but we are in touch with the relevant health authorities.  And we will try to boost our presence as soon as it is safely possible.  And, with that, Brenden over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.