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3 May 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.  Nice to be back.

**Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

A couple of things I wanted to flag; one is on the situation on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

The Secretary-General has been following developments along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border with concern.  He extends his condolences for the lives lost in the clashes last week and wishes a speedy recovery for those involved.

The Secretary-General also welcomes the ceasefire that was agreed on on 1 May.  He also welcomes the contacts that have taken place between the Presidents, Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of the two countries and urges both sides to take all measures necessary to ensure that the ceasefire holds.

The Secretary-General also notes that his Special Representative for Central Asia, Natalia Gherman, remains in direct contact with the authorities on both sides and reiterates the UN’s readiness to provide support, as necessary.

**El Salvador

Also, on El Salvador, we are also following that situation very closely.

The Secretary-General takes note of the concerns expressed regarding the procedures used in the dismissal of the members of the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and its impact on the system of checks and balances in El Salvador.

The Secretary-General calls for respect of constitutional provisions, the rule of law and the division of powers, with a view to preserving the democratic progress achieved by the Salvadoran people since the signing of the peace agreement.

**General Assembly

Just a programming note that, in a short while, the Secretary-General will deliver remarks to a special session of the General Assembly in memory of the late President Idriss Déby of Chad.

Those remarks will be shared with you.

**World Press Freedom Day

Today is World Press Freedom Day, as you all know, and this year’s theme is “Information as a Public Good”.

In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that the global challenges we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic underline the critical role of reliable, verified and universally accessible information in saving lives and building strong, resilient societies.  He noted that, in too many countries, journalists and media workers run great personal risks, including new restrictions, censorship, abuse, harassment, detention and even death, simply for doing their jobs.

The Secretary-General also pointed out that the economic impact of the pandemic has hit many media outlets hard, threatening their very survival.  He urges all Governments to do everything in their power to support a free, independent and diverse media.

**Myanmar

In relation to press freedom, the UN country team in Myanmar calls for the immediate release of dozens of journalists who are still detained more than three months after the military seized control of the Government.

To date, military authorities have revoked the operating licenses of six major Myanmar media outlets.  Some 82 journalists have been arrested and more than half of them are still detained.

**COVID-19 — India

And a note on the situation in India, where the UN team is supporting authorities to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including by addressing misinformation:  Our team is working to promote the Secretary-General’s Verified campaign, which, as you’ll recall, was launched last year to deliver trusted information and life-saving advice.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in India continues to help with the national vaccination strategy.  The agency is translating messages in many languages and stepping up its work with communities across 16 states.  Myth-busting campaigns and others have reached more than 21 million people in both rural and urban areas.  Nearly 650,000 front-line workers have been trained on promoting key messages on vaccines.

The UN team is also working with community radio stations across the country to reach more than 17 million people in rural areas on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and also on the importance of vaccines.

More information available for you on various web platforms.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, over the weekend, the UN Mission in that country (MINUSCA) has deployed engineering materials and equipment in the capital, Bangui, to repair electrical towers and cables damaged during a rainstorm on 23 [April], which caused a power outage.  The water supply was also impacted by the power outage, and our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission provided a generator to help ensure access to water.

Power is now partially restored in Bangui and the Mission’s ongoing work in support of the Government continues to bring the normalization of electricity in the capital.

On the electoral front, the Mission is telling us that the Constitutional Court validated the election of 68 Members of Parliament, elected on 14 March.  This brings the total number of elected MPs to 90, who will be sworn in on 3 May.  There are 11 women among them.

Fifty seats in the National Assembly are now to be contested in the next round of legislative elections, scheduled for 23 May.

**Ebola

A quick note on Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:  Today marks the end of the twelfth Ebola outbreak in the country.  The virus re-emerged in North Kivu, in February, nine months after the previous outbreak in the same province was declared over.

The head of WHO (World Health Organization) in Africa, Dr. [Matshidiso] Moeti, said that we must stay alert for a possible resurgence of the virus, while using the growing expertise on emergency response to address other health threats that the country faces.

WHO continues to work with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fight other public health problems such as outbreaks of measles and cholera, the COVID-19 pandemic and a weak health system.

**Somalia

You will have seen over the weekend we issued two statements:  One on Somalia, in which the Secretary-General welcomed the decision of the Lower House of the Federal Parliament in Somalia to nullify the “Special Law on Federal Elections” and return to the electoral modalities outlined in the 17 September Electoral Agreement.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call for all Somali stakeholders to resume dialogue immediately and to forge a consensual agreement on the holding of inclusive elections without further delay.  He further stresses the importance of a broad-based consensus for the country’s stability.

**Afghanistan

In another statement issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General condemned the suicide [attack] in Puli-e-Alam in Afghanistan, that took place on 30 April, on Friday.

He hopes that the observation of the holy month of Ramadan, a time for contemplation and compassion, will be an occasion to reflect on those who have been affected by the prolonged conflict in the country and to come together in renewed efforts towards peace.

**Press Briefings

As you all know, at 3:30 p.m.  this afternoon, the Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China, Ambassador Zhang Jun, will be here to brief you in his capacity as President of the Security Council for the month of May.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

And tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press briefing here by the President of the General Assembly, moderated by our friend, Brenden [Varma], who will tell you more about it in a few minutes.

Célhia?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, it’s about Chad.  As you know, the situation has deteriorated.  Mali, Sudan, Niger and probably Nigeria will be impacted by the situation.  What can the UN do to prevent the situation from getting worse?

And as you know, there is a problem in Libya, where Chadian mercenaries are not welcome to Chad.  So, where are they going to go?

Spokesman:  Look, it’s obvious that the situation… the events in Chad may very well have an impact in the broader region.  Our focus is… remains on working to build stability in Chad and in the region beyond.  Mr. [François] Louncény Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Central Africa, was in Chad recently, has now gone back to Libreville.  But he remains in contact with the African Union, the [Economic] Community of Central African States.  Obviously, the UN system is also very… following very closely what is going on in the Sahel as a whole.

On the issue of mercenaries, whether… whatever nationality they are in Libya, Libya will be better off without mercenaries.  It is important that, obviously, when you’re looking at Chad that there is also a process of reconciliation, of political reconciliation, so that the country moves away from internal armed conflict and towards a greater stability.

Question:  But Chad does not want them back… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I… that’s why I’m talking as like… whenever… and whether you talk about Chad or other countries, if there is an internal conflict, it is obviously for political reasons.  So, there needs to be a political solution to that.  And we are there to support the Chadians on that.

Ray and then Ibtisam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Israeli Government said that they will resume negotiations with Lebanon in Naqoura tomorrow, Tuesday.  Any comment on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I have not seen that, but obviously, we welcome any sort of… any dialogue directly or under whatever auspices between the two countries, but I’ll get you something on that.

Ibtisam?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On Libya, so, 11 immigrants drowned yesterday off the coast of Libya.  That brings the total number of immigrants who tried to cross to Europe, and we know that they died, 600 people, since the beginning of the year.

The Norwegian Refugee Council issued a statement saying that this tragedy and those before were completely avoidable had the European… had Europe stepped up and allowed rescue missions to bring migrants and refugees to safety, rather than shifting the blame on others.  What’s your comment and what do you… what’s your comment on that, first?

Spokesman:  Look, we’ve been reporting… whether from here or other colleagues have been reporting regularly on the tragic deaths of men, women and children who are just trying to seek a better life for themselves.  There has been, I think and clearly to all, a lack of global solidarity when it comes to migrants and refugees, especially when you look at the situation in the Mediterranean.  We have always called for greater European solidarity and coordinated efforts.  People who are at sea and in danger need to be rescued.

The other side of that equation is the situation in Libya.  Libya is not a safe place for migrants and refugees.  We hope that the political dialogue that is under way will bring greater stability for Libya.  The Libyan authorities also have a responsibility to treat with dignity those who are in their country on the move to a better life, but it’s clear that so many have let down these men, women and children.

Question:  Which steps do you want to see European Governments taking?  What specifically… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think it’s clear that there needs to be greater European solidarity.  The European Union itself will have to find an internal solution, but we need greater solidarity and greater humanity.

Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  Is there an update on Burma and Myanmar?  One NGO (non-governmental organizations) after another seems to criticise the UN, the Security Council, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and so forth, for not doing any… enough.  Is there any update on things getting worse, better, whatever?

Spokesman:  Well, the update on the ground is not one of getting better.  I think I just flagged the fact on this World Press Freedom Day that so many of your colleagues remain detained, often without charge and conditions that we can only imagine are horrendous.  We can all understand the frustration of the people of Myanmar given the current situation.

For our part… and the Security Council and other parts of the UN have to answer for themselves.  For our part, our envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, is back in Bangkok.  She had… as you know, was in Jakarta, where she had contacts with the military rulers.  She is still trying… her contacts are ongoing in trying to, A, get herself to Myanmar and work with other parts of the international community for a restoration of the democratic order in Myanmar.

Question:  Who’s the top UN person there?

Spokesman:  Christine Schraner Burgener.

Question:  No, I mean in the country.

Spokesman:  The Resident Coordinator.  I have to…

Question:  Is the Resident Coordinator in Thailand or is he in Myanmar?

Spokesman:  He’s in Myanmar.  Yeah.  [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Dulcie?

Question:  Hi.  The Secretary-General went to the Kentucky Derby this weekend.  Who paid for the trip?  And was it on his public schedule?

Spokesman:  No, the trip was a private trip.  The Secretary-General had been invited last year by the then-US Permanent Representative, Kelly Craft, to attend the Derby.  As you know, it was not… it did not take place.  He was not able to go in 2020.

The hotel was paid directly and personally by the Secretary-General.  There were no additional travel costs to the Organization, and had there been, the Secretary-General would have paid for it himself.

Question:  But how did he get there?  How did he get to Kentucky?

Spokesman:  He flew commercial.

Question:  From where?

Spokesman:  He flew back… he was in Europe and flew back and within the allotment… we work on a system of allotment in terms of money, and the travel that he took to Kentucky and back as part of his trip to Europe was at no additional cost to the Organization.

Question:  Oh, okay.  So, he paid for the flight from New York to Kentucky and back?

Spokesman:  No.  What I’m saying to you is that he was in Europe, in Geneva… he had been… he left New York… what day are we?  He left New York about 10 days ago, flew to Europe and then flew back to New York via Kentucky.  And what I’m saying to you, there was no additional cost from the budgeted cost of the trip.  Had there been any, he would have paid for it.

Yes, Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, do we know what the Secretary-General and Kelly Craft talked about?

Spokesman:  I assume horses.  [laughter] It was a private trip.  [laughter]

Okay.  Anything else… oh, sorry.  I forgot.  There’s also people online.  I keep… sorry.  I’ve been gone for too long.

Maggie and then Toby.

Maggie?  All right.  Toby, I… while Maggie warms up her… cranks up her camera and her microphone, Toby, go ahead.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Nice to see you.  Question on World Press Freedom Day, the Facebook Oversight Board is debating now and expected to announce this week whether or not they’re going to allow Donald Trump, former US President, back on their platform.  Does the SG want to weigh in on this and about these… just the nature of public communication now?  When we’re seeing it degrade… when we’re seeing the UN warn of media extinction events, how should we be thinking about the increasing importance of these platforms in political speech?

Spokesman:  Welcome back, too, Toby.  [laughter]

I’m not going to weigh in on the particular decision, whatever Facebook decides.  What the Secretary-General has talked about and has been discussed is the need to… obviously, to balance the basic human rights of free speech but also to take into account the dangers of hate speech, of incitement to violence, the responsibility of these private companies to do that, to find the right formula in which to do that.

This is part of a greater, I would say, multi-stakeholder conversation that needs to be had between Governments, the private sector, human rights NGOs, press NGOs to try to figure out how these issues are managed, whether or not they need to be regulated.  But it is a conversation that needs to be had.

There is a right to free speech, but there is also a responsibility to avoid the hate speech that we’ve seen, the incitement of violence and all the sort of negative and very dangerous things that we have seen emanating from these social media platforms.

Maggie, have you managed… okay.  Kristen?

Correspondent:  Can you hear me, Far… oh, Steph?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.  Yes, go ahead.  You’ve… yes, go ahead.

Correspondent:  To whom, Kristen or Maggie?

Spokesman:  Maggie, let’s have you while you can speak.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks.  Sorry I couldn’t un-mute before.  Yeah, I don’t know.  It’s a little shaky, the connection.

Steph, do you have any update on Tigray?  And do you have any efforts by the UN to help lower tensions on the Grand [Ethiopian] Renaissance Dam?

Spokesman:  On the dam, the Secretary-General continues to be in touch with all the parties, including the African Union, in an effort to support dialogue, the lowering of tensions and to support, obviously, the efforts of the African Union, who are very much in the lead on this issue.

On Tigray, we’re continuing to assist all people in need and protection throughout Ethiopia and including Tigray in accordance with our humanitarian principles of impartiality and basically based on needs only.

Okay.  Miss Saloomey, please.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Just wondering if you had any update on the UN’s response in India to the pandemic, any updates?  I know Farhan [Haq] told us last week about some medical supplies, but anything new from the UN on its response?

Spokesman:  Not newer than what I just said about five minutes ago.

Question:  About the… right.

Spokesman:  We… yeah, yeah.  There’s no… [cross talk]

There was nothing in my “if asked” book that I did not use and did not share with you.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have few questions, too.  I’ll start with Yemen.  Both envoys, the UN Special Envoy and the US Special Envoy, visited Riyadh.  And I asked Mr. Farhan how… if it was coincidence to be both the same time in Riyadh, and he said no.  And both now, they are in Muscat, Oman.  So, I’m asking if they are coordinating their efforts or their trip to… both to Riyadh and to… and Oman.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I didn’t hear the first part of your question, who you were referring to.

Question:  The UN Special Envoy on Yemen and the US Special Envoy to Yemen, both, they visited Riyadh together and they visited Oman together.  Are they coordinating their efforts?

Spokesman:  There is no… they both have separate… let me just say something.  They both share the same… we all share the aim of bringing peace to the people of Yemen, but they are not coordinating their travel.  I mean, one can imagine that the number of places you need to go to to talk about Yemen are pretty small in the region.  So, if people keep going around to the same places, at some point, they’ll be in the same place at the same time.

Question:  Okay.  My second question, the Israeli court gave the people of the neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah until Thursday to evacuate so its settlers can’t come in.  It’s an open ethnic cleansing, and yet there was no statement, neither from the Secretary-General or his Special Envoy, on Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Do you have anything to say?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I will see… I haven’t seen the court ruling, but I will check and get back to you.

Question:  And the last thing, a senior woman, 60-year-old — her name is Rahad Mohammed Moussa Zaul [phonetic] — was shot at the checkpoint south of Bethlehem under the claim that she was attempting to stab anybody, to stab the two soldiers.  They shot her and she died few hours later, and the video shows that she was no threat to the soldiers.  You have any knowledge of this incident… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I will check… Let me check on that particular incident.

Okay.  Yes, Carla, and then we’ll go to Brenden.

Question:  Thank you very much.  Has the Security Council passed any ruling to protect many of these migrants who have ended up, I gather from today, 600 people drowning in the Mediterranean this year?  Because many of them are fleeing from countries that were destroyed as a consequence of Security Council authorization of bombing, basically Iraq, Libya, so forth.  So, the Security Council would have a responsibility to protect these people who are trying to…

Spokesman:  Carla, I think… as I said, our… we have raised… we have talked about the horrendous situation and the deadly situation being faced by migrants in Libya and other places in the Mediterranean.  The question you raise is a very valid one, and I think it’s a perfect one to ask Ambassador Zhang Jun when he’s here at 3:30 and as President to the Security Council.

Okay.  Brenden Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.