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30 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, and happy Friday, everyone.

**Chief Executives Board

On Tuesday, the 4th of May, the Secretary-General will bring together the heads of the UN system organizations in a virtual meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) to reflect on current world affairs as they affect and relate to the United Nations system’s work.  The Board will discuss salient emerging trends, opportunities and challenges facing the system, with a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic response, as well as risks for human rights, biodiversity, climate action, global economic prospects and deepening inequalities.

The CEB members will engage in a dedicated discussion on current and emerging root causes of conflict, within the context of a comprehensive prevention agenda.

**India

On India, you will have seen that the Secretary-General tweeted that he and the UN family stand in solidarity with the people of the country as they face a horrific COVID-19 outbreak.

The Secretary-General said the UN stands ready to step up our support.  And the Resident Coordinator in India, Renata Lok-Dessallien, shares the Secretary-General’s sentiments.

For its part, UNICEF has sent critical supplies, including 3,000 oxygen concentrators, diagnostic tests, medical kits, and other equipment, to India.

Dr. Yasmin Haque, the UNICEF Representative in India, said much more is needed as the outbreak continues to spread rapidly.

The agency is helping to procure and install oxygen plants for hospitals in the north-east and in Maharashtra, as well as the installation of thermal scanners at ports of entry countrywide.

UNICEF has also been helping the Government to ensure that ensuring critical services for the most vulnerable children can continue functioning, as well as to help more than 12 million children in 17 states continue learning from home.

More on this on UNICEF’s website.

**Israel

The Secretary-General just tweeted that his heart goes out to the people of Israel following the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron.

He offers his condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.

**Palestine

Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, took note today of the Palestinian leadership’s decision to postpone Legislative Council elections scheduled for 22 May.  He said that he fully understands the disappointment of the many Palestinians who have so clearly expressed a desire to exercise their democratic rights after nearly 16 years without elections.

Mr. Wennesland encouraged Palestinians to continue on the democratic path.  He said that the holding of transparent and inclusive elections throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem as stipulated in prior agreements, remains essential for renewing the legitimacy and credibility of Palestinian institutions and opening the path to re-establishing Palestinian national unity.  He added that setting a new and timely date for elections would be an important step in reassuring the Palestinian people that their voices will be heard.

**Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

Our Special Representative for Central Asia, Natalia Gherman, held telephone conversations today with the Foreign Ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to discuss the current situation at the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

Ms. Gherman expressed deepest regret on the loss of life and injuries.  The Special Representative welcomed the dialogue between the President of Tajikistan and the President of Kyrgyzstan and the resumption of the work of the intergovernmental commission on delimitation and demarcation of the border.

She expressed support regarding steps aimed at de-escalation of the situation and urged the two Governments to intensify efforts to find a long-term solution to border disputes through peaceful means.

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, on Wednesday, humanitarian staff from a United Nations agency and a national non-governmental organization were physically assaulted by youth in separate incidents in the town of Torit in Eastern Equatoria.

Meanwhile, on 24 April, in Jamjang in Ruweng Administrative Area, some youths entered an international NGO compound and physically attacked staff, resulting in multiple injuries.

These attacks come amid high levels of youth unemployment in the country and their demands to be hired by humanitarian organizations.

The Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou, said that attacks against aid organizations are completely unacceptable and must stop.  He urged authorities and communities to guarantee the safety and security of aid workers and the Government to enforce law and order.

**Sudan

In neighbouring Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the security situation in the town of Ag Geneina in western Darfur is stable but remains tense and unpredictable.

More than 230,000 people were displaced by the conflict in Darfur since the beginning of this year which is more than four times the 53,000 people displaced by the conflict in all of 2020.

The top needs of the those who have been newly displaced are food, protection, shelter and water, among others.

The UN and our partners continue to scale up their response.  As of yesterday, and since the start of the current conflict in January, we have reached more than 100,000 people with food assistance; 65,000 people with health services; and 64,000 people with emergency shelter and other supplies.

Our colleagues warn that, with the rainy season approaching, scaling up the humanitarian response would be a major challenge given the current capacity limitations and shortage of funding.  So far, the Humanitarian Response Plan is only 10 per cent funded.

**Mozambique

The UN Refugee Agency [UNHCR] today said that is deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of the rapid escalation of violence in northern Mozambique, where some 30,000 people have fled the coastal town of Palma since it came under attack by armed groups on the 24th of March.

According to UNHCR, the ongoing armed conflict in the oil- and gas-rich Cabo Delgado province has resulted in grave rights abuses, the disruption of critical services and severe impact on civilians.  Some people are still fleeing Palma, but with only a few evacuation routes remaining open, UNHCR is worried for those who are unable to leave the area.

Today, the International Organization for Migration [IOM] also expressed concern about the continued exodus of civilians from insecure areas of Cabo Delgado province.  IOM said that at least three quarters of the displaced people from Palma are women and children.

 **Myanmar — Poverty

On Myanmar, a new report by the UN Development Programme says that the number of poor people in the country could double due to combined impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing political crisis.

The report says that 12 million more people could be pushed into poverty, resulting in 25 million people — nearly half of Myanmar’s population — living below the poverty line by early 2022.

This comes after more than a decade of progress in reducing poverty in Myanmar.

The UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, said that, without functioning democratic institutions, Myanmar faces a tragic and avoidable backslide towards levels of poverty not seen in a generation.

**COVID-19 — Bolivia

Bolivia received 92,000 vaccine doses a couple of days ago.  This is the second COVAX-backed shipment to the country.  This is an effort led by authorities in partnership with the UN team, especially the Pan-American Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund.  This brings the total number of COVAX-backed doses to over 320,000, supporting the national vaccination scheme with priority given to at-risk groups, especially health workers, older adults and those people with other medical conditions.

**COVID-19 — Brazil

In Brazil, our UN team continues to support national and local authorities to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic, particularly in the Amazon region.  The International Organization for Migration conducted a 10-day training on malaria and prevention of COVID-19 for indigenous health workers from the Yanomami community in the northern state of Amazonas.

In the state capital Manaus, one of the cities most impacted by the pandemic, the IOM team continues working with authorities to provide health care to indigenous and riverside communities.  IOM has also provided medical care to 200 refugees, migrants, and the host community in the past 15 days.

With UNICEF’s support, a Young Indigenous Communicators Network in the Amazon region launched a podcast series “Amazon Indigenous Voices” on Spotify.  They produced six episodes addressing vulnerabilities of indigenous peoples during the pandemic.

The UN Refugee Agency and UNICEF are working with local authorities in the northern state of Pará, establishing a Committee of Reception and Assistance to Warao people.  This is an opportunity to address the needs of indigenous peoples, including relocation where needed.

**AIDS Report

Today, the Secretary-General has released a new report with recommendations and targets to get the world back on track to end AIDS.  He warned that, despite intensive action and progress made against HIV in some places and population groups, HIV epidemics continue to expand in others, and he issued a set of 10 key recommendations.  He urged the world to address the inequalities that are slowing progress.

According to the report, the 1.7 million new HIV infections that occurred in 2019 are more than three times higher than the 2020 target of less than 500,000 new infections.  In addition, the 690,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2019 far exceed the 2020 target of reducing deaths to fewer than 500,000 a year.

The report also notes that COVID-19 has caused additional setbacks.  The Secretary-General warned that COVID-19 is not an excuse for missing AIDS targets, but rather a stark warning to the countries that they can no longer afford to underinvest in pandemic preparedness and responses.

**International Jazz Day

Today is the tenth anniversary of International Jazz Day.  In his message to mark the day, the Secretary-General recalled jazz’s historic role in the struggle against racism and discrimination.  He also highlighted how this art form continues to unite cultures across the globe.

But, he added, amid a global pandemic, performers and workers dependent on the creative arts are suffering.  The Secretary-General reiterated the importance of restoring our vibrant societies as safely, equitably and quickly as possible.

And we can’t celebrate Jazz Day without music, so tune in at 5 p.m. on jazzday.com for an all-star global concert that will include performances from New York, Paris, Cape Town, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and other cities around the world.

You will hear artists from over 20 countries, including Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Joe Lovano, Angelique Kidjo and many more.

**World Tuna Day

And Sunday, the 2nd of May, is World Tuna Day.  The purpose of the day is to highlight the importance of sustainably managed fish stocks in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

**Press Briefing Monday

And on Monday, at 3:30 p.m., Ambassador Zhang Jun, the Permanent Representative of China and President of the Security Council for May, will be in the Press Briefing Room to brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

**Contributions

And lastly, we would like to thank our friends in the United Kingdom for paying their regular budget dues in full.  This takes the number of fully paid-up Member States to 98.

And that brings us to your questions.

**Questions and Answers

I don’t see any questions in the room right now, so we’ll first go to Evelyn Leopold.  Evelyn, over to you.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  You mentioned the turmoil in Darfur, and you mentioned that the United Nations was helping with humanitarian aid.  Who is helping, who is trying to stop the turmoil?  Is the Peacebuilding Commission doing any of it?  Has the Secretary-General spoken to them?  It, once again, shows that the withdrawal of peacekeepers wasn’t a good idea.

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, over time, we’re obliged to withdraw peacekeepers from different places once the Security Council has determined that they’re no longer needed.  This isn’t the first time that there are some problems following the withdrawal of a long-standing peacekeeping presence, but we are working, and we are dealing with the national Government to make sure that the conditions on the ground can be maintained and that stability will not be lost in the area.

And so, we are keeping in touch with that, and meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is dealing with the humanitarian situation on the ground.

Question:  One more quick question.  [New York City] Mayor [Bill] de Blasio keeps talking about opening up the city for everything in July.  Any word on the high-level week in September or any word on when you will receive a word?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I think there’s still a number of considerations to take into consideration.  Certainly, we’re pleased with any signs that the situation is improving in the City of New York and the State of New York, and we’ll continue to follow up with authorities there.

Of course, the UN is a world organization, and the situation in the world, as you know, is not as positive.  And we’re trying to see what we can do so that the leaders of countries all around the world can feel fairly represented.  And so, that discussion is going on among the Member States, and we’re providing advice to them about the conditions here as needed, but we’ll have to see what the Member States themselves decide upon.

Question:  Will New York or the host country… will the State or the City of New York have the last word regardless of what the Members decide?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we need to comply with the conditions, the safety conditions and the health conditions in the City and State of New York and, of course, in the United States.  But when it comes to events organized by Member States, it’s their, they have the final word in determining how they want to hold it, and we will continue to be in touch with them.  Okay, okay, are you still asking something?  I can’t hear you.

Question:  Sorry.  If the Member States decide it’s a good idea to hold a full General Assembly high-level week, it would mean that Presidents and Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers would arrive with an entourage.  Do you think that would be… is that something that has to be checked with New York?

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s a number of things we need to consider, including avoiding any spread and including problems in the countries themselves as people travel back and forth.  I mean, these are all things that are being considered, but like I said, the Member States are well apprised of the situation.

Kristen Saloomey.

Question:  The Special Envoy for Myanmar briefed the Security Council today.  Can you tell us anything about that, what her message was to the Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, obviously, this was part of an interactive discussion, so we’re not able to really, we’re not able to tell you any, in any detail what Christine Schraner Burgener had to say.

We gave you an update earlier this week about her meetings.  You are aware that she met with the head of the Tatmadaw.  She met with different Foreign Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

So, of course, she’s providing a more in-depth discussion with the Security [Council] members about the sort of work she’s taken, and it’s clear from our standpoint that the priorities we have in terms of getting back to where the situation was before the 1st of February coup and ensuring the release of political prisoners, ensuring that human rights… the human rights situation in the country is improved — that those continue to be our concerns.  And she will be discussing it with the members of the Security Council, who themselves, as you know, have expressed their own concerns about the country.

Okay, James Reinl.

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

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  I mean, I was going to ask you the same question as Kristen Saloomey on Myanmar, but, given what you’ve said so far, if you could just flesh it out a little bit more.  From the SG’s point of view, what’s the way forward to achieving those goals and objectives and concerns that you spoke about?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it’s very clear that all of the various groups that we deal with, whether you’re talking about the Security Council as a body, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a regional grouping, the different Governments of the region and the different Governments with particular influence on the authorities in Myanmar, that they all have a role to play in putting up a united front so that the sort of democratic progress that Myanmar had made up until the 1st of February can be restored.  And the Secretary-General has spoken publicly about this, and I would just refer you to what he has said and the points he’s made.

But, even today, as you’re aware, the UNDP report that we’ve just mentioned tells you a lot about the steep economic costs that the people of Myanmar are paying for the deterioration since the 1st of February, and that tells you a lot about why it is in the, it is to the advantage of all sides that we get back to the situation that we had in place beforehand.

Toby?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thanks, yeah, I had the same question, too.  So, I’m just trying to figure out how to get some additional colour from you, but you’ve given us a… nice information, so thank you very much.

Can you just tell us, does the Special Envoy plan to brief us soon?  What will her interactions be with… publicly?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll see when is the next good time for her to talk to the media.  As you know, there are certain times when, in order to make diplomatic progress, she won’t be talking to the press for a little while.  But whenever she’s available again, we’ll, we are continuing to reach out to her periodically, and we’ll let you know when we can do, when we can offer her for press availability.

Okay, thanks.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today the US Special Envoy on Yemen and the UN Special Envoy in Yemen are both in Riyadh.  Is this trip coordinated between the two special envoys, one representing the US, one representing the UN, or it happened to be just coincident to be both in Riyadh?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, Martin Griffiths needs to travel frequently to Riyadh, and he has done so in the past.  It’s not always the case that he meets with US officials.  Many times, he’s there to meet with Saudi officials or with officials of the Yemeni Government.  And so, his trip, his schedule is determined by his own particular needs in terms of the meetings he wants to have.  It’s not, we don’t control the programme of the US delegation, so, but it’s fortunate if they’re there.  It may offer them a convenient moment to have discussions.

Question:  Thank you.  I have a second question, Farhan.  By the end of March, there are 450 Palestinians still in Israeli jail under what is called administrative detention, including two children and three [inaudible].  Three of the Palestinians held under this role are on hunger strike, including the journalist that I raised his name this week with you, Alaa al-Rimawi, who still not released.  He is entering his tenth day of a hunger strike.  Is Mr. Wennesland talking to the Israeli authorities about this category of detainees in Israeli jails or…

[cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  … do you have any position on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have consistently raised our concerns about people who are held in detention among the Palestinians without being charged, and the consistent position of the Office of the Special Coordinator has been that people need to be charged and face their actual legal processes or otherwise be released.  And so, Mr. Wennesland would continue to convey the same message that we’ve been conveying for many years now.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay, thanks.  And I see no further questions, and Brenden’s not around.  So, I will wish you all a very good weekend, and Stéphane will see you on Monday.  Bye, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.