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4 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.

**Chief Executives Board

All right.  This morning the Secretary-General opened a virtual meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) to allow the heads of the UN system to reflect on current world affairs as they impact 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 also engage in a dedicated discussion on current and emerging root causes of conflict, within the context of a comprehensive prevention agenda.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

This morning, the Security Council held a debate by videoconference on Bosnia and Herzegovina.  During the meeting, Council members were briefed by the EU High Representative, Valentin Inzko, on the latest report from his Office.

**Science and Technology Forum

This morning, the Secretary-General sent a message to the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In his message, delivered on his behalf by Maria Francesca Spatolisano, the Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Secretary-General said that the pandemic has revealed as never before the importance of science, technology and innovation for our well-being and survival.  Not only have we seen a vaccine delivered in record time, but the crisis has also increased innovation in medicines and digital communications technologies, he said in the message.  However, he warned that billions of people remain almost entirely excluded from the benefits of the information and technology revolution and the pandemic has worsened existing digital and technological divides.

It is essential that we work together — across borders, sectors and disciplines — to make science and technology work for everyone, he added.  That statement was shared with you.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, our team on the ground says they’re increasingly concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Myanmar more than three months after the military seized control.

According to our humanitarian colleagues, the impact of ongoing and intensified armed clashes continues to be felt in Myanmar’s south-east, where an estimated 40,000 people have been displaced since December 2020.  More people have been forced from their homes since late March due to attacks, including air strikes, by Myanmar’s military, and other groups.

The continued fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states has caused thousands of people to flee their homes in recent weeks as a result of armed clashes.

**Syria

Moving on to Syria, I wanted to give you an update on Al Hol camp and tell you that we are concerned about the situation of the estimated 60,000 people who remain living in Al Hol camp in the north-east.  We are particularly concerned about the rising cases of the COVID-19 virus across Syria, including in the camp.

To date, 39 cases have been discovered and six deaths have been reported at Al Hol.  Humanitarian organizations are supporting contact tracing, recognizing that a wider outbreak could be devastating to the already vulnerable state of the families in the camp.

The UN and our humanitarian partners are supporting the COVID-19 Treatment Facility at Al Hol and providing health, water, and sanitation assistance to mitigate the transmission of the virus.

More than 31,000 children live in Al Hol camp — that’s over half the camp population — and are under the age of 12.  No child should grow up in a place like Al Hol.

We continue to stress that long-term, durable solutions are needed for all the residents of the camp — whether they be Syrian, Iraqi, or from another country.  Any return to a third country must also be voluntary, safe, fully informed, and dignified.

We further emphasize the need for full and regular humanitarian access to the camp so that all 60,000 plus residents continue to receive essential services.

**Yemen

In Yemen, torrential rains and flooding have continued across many parts of the country since mid-April.  Needs assessments are ongoing, with initial reports indicating that more than 22,000 people have been impacted so far, most of whom are internally displaced.  Intensified rain over recent days has caused multiple deaths and injuries, as well as large-scale damage to infrastructure, homes and shelters.

Humanitarian partners are mobilizing to scale up the response.  Work is underway to distribute food baskets, non-food items and cash assistance, as well as to relocate displaced people to higher ground.

Last year, once-in-a-generation flooding in Yemen killed scores of people and caused hundreds of thousands to lose their homes, incomes and livelihoods.

**Libya

The Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, today transmitted the draft proposal for the constitutional basis for the elections to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.

The Special Envoy thanks the members of the Legal Committee, in particular the Drafting Team and the Rapporteurs, for their excellent work and accomplishment.

He will convene a virtual plenary session of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum soon after the Eid holiday, so that they can discuss and debate the proposal.

**Madagascar

And an update from Madagascar, where we’ve been telling you of the dire conditions.  The UN team is working there with authorities to address record-high food insecurity and an upsurge of severe acute malnutrition caused by droughts, sandstorms and caterpillar plagues in the southern part of the island.

Joint efforts have so far supported 1.3 million people in the 10 most impacted districts.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have provided over 820,000 people with food and livelihood assistance, while UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) provided nutritional support to more than 93,000 children under age 5, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.

UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and UNICEF have supported nearly 170,000 people with access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as prenatal services to nearly 110,000 children and women.

Authorities and the UN jointly launched a flash appeal in January, calling for nearly $76 million.  The appeal is 67 per cent funded as of April, but additional resources are needed for large-scale food and nutrition assistance.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned that, due to funding shortages, more than 800,000 people in the country could see their access to health care cut.

Prior to the pandemic, South Sudan’s health system was already overwhelmed and heavily dependent on aid organizations who now face troubling funding shortfalls.

IOM just needs under $750,000 a month to continue providing life-saving care to 800,000 people.

**Brazil — Resident Coordinator

Continuing on Brazil, where our colleagues from the Development Coordination Office tell us that Silvia Rucks of Uruguay has been appointed as the new Resident Coordinator in Brazil.  Her appointment follows confirmation from the host Government, and she took up her post just two days ago.

Resident Coordinators are the designated representatives of the Secretary-General for development at the country level.  They lead the work of the team on the ground, including to support the authorities’ response to the ongoing pandemic and its multiple impacts.  Ms. Ruck’s full biography is available on the UN Sustainable Development Group website.

**Central Mediterranean

Today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned that the mounting number of refugee and migrant deaths in the Central Mediterranean.  So far in 2021, at least 500 persons are known to have lost their lives trying to make the dangerous sea crossing in the Central Mediterranean.  That’s compared to 150 in the same period in 2020.

UNHCR notes that while total arrivals to Europe have been decreasing since 2015, the latest disembarkations bring the number of sea arrivals in Italy in 2021 to over 10,400.  This is more than a 170 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2020.

UNHCR commends Italy for keeping its ports open during the pandemic.  Solidarity from other EU member States, however, is urgently needed, as the deteriorating situation in Libya will continue to force people to resort to desperate measures to seek safety.

**COVAX — Brazil

And a quick update from Brazil, which I should have read earlier:  Brazil has now received more than 3.9 million doses of the COVAX-backed vaccine over the weekend to support the national vaccination efforts.  This has been facilitated by our continuous support to national and local authorities, complementing bilateral agreements made by the country and its national vaccination rollout, prioritizing older adults and at-risk people.

This second batch complements the arrival of another 1 million vaccines received in March, also via COVAX, with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global headquarters and UNICEF and partners playing a key role.

**Global Youth Summit Dialogue

This morning, the UN Food Systems Summit hosted a Global Youth Summit Dialogue, which brought together 100 youth advocates from across the globe who champion a range of issues in their local contexts — from agriculture to education to climate.

The event also marked the launch of the Good Food for All campaign, to galvanize ideas towards better food systems.  The Youth Dialogue is part of the forthcoming UN Food Systems Summit, which will take place in September.

**Press Briefings Tomorrow

Speaking of food:  The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme will launch of the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises and that will be in this room at 11 a.m.  The speakers will be Dominique Burgeon, Director of the FAO Liaison Office in Geneva, and Arif Husain, WFP’s Chief Economist.

Then at noon, after our briefing, I will be joined by the WHO’s Chief Nursing Officer, Elizabeth Iro, and the Chief Executive of the International Confederation of Midwives, Dr. Sally Pairman.  They will brief on the State of the World’s Midwifery 2021, jointly released by WHO, the UN Population Fund and International Confederation of Midwives.

**Financial Contribution

And on a bright note, we say muchas gracias to our friends in Santiago, as Chile has paid its dues in full, taking us up to how many?

Correspondent:  Near a hundred.

Spokesman:  Near a hundred is pretty good because 99 is near a hundred.  So, you see?  [laughter]  If you don’t play, you can’t win.  [laughter]

**Questions and Answers

All right.  Go ahead, Edie.  At least tomorrow you may remember the answer.  Yes.  [laughter]

All right.  Sorry.  Let’s get going.

Question:  Okay.  First, does the Secretary-General have any comment on this accident in Mexico City, where a train plunged off a bridge that crashed… that fell and killed at least 23 people?

Spokesman:  We were very saddened to hear the news and see the horrific images.  We send our condolences to the families of the victims and wish all those who were injured a speedy recovery.

Question:  Secondly, several months ago, you said that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was looking into the idea of some kind of a vaccination passport for international travel.  I wonder if there’s been an int… an update from ICAO on what they’ve looked into, what they’re thinking about and whether this is a possibility.

Spokesman:  It’s a very good question.  I have… I will check with our colleagues in Montreal.

Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, I’m going to ask a question that I asked before, but I never got an answer so… do you have an update on the investigation about the killing of the Italian ambassador in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo)?

Spokesman:  The update that I have is that our colleagues at the World Food Programme are kind of the main point-of-contact with the two ongoing criminal investigations, which is done by the Italian authorities and by the DRC authorities.  We are cooperating with them in every possible way, but I don’t have an update.  I would encourage you to check with WFP and also check with the Italians and the DRC.

Okay.  Alejandro Rincon, Alejandro.

Question:  Yes.  Hi, Steph.  How are you?  Thank you so much for taking my question; it is on Colombia.  A UN team was deployed to assess the current situation of social unrest in the city of Cali, and it’s been reported that the UN team was close to the police when they started opening fire against protesters that are rallying against tax reform.

So, could you help us understand and do you have any idea if whether or not any person at the UN have been affected by the social unrest in Colombia so far over the last days of demonstrations that we have had there?

Spokesman:  In terms of the actual team itself, what I can tell you, these were from the… our colleagues in the UN Human Rights Office, as I understand it, and they said they are deeply alarmed at the developments in Cali, where there was… where, as you said, police had opened fire on demonstrators, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people.

The… our human rights colleagues are in Colombia, working to verify the exact number and the exact details of the situation, and I think we… as soon as we have something from them, we will share that with you.

Question:  Okay.  And also, by the way, in Colombia right now, the social unrest continues.  There is a new call for a national strike that’s active for tomorrow.  And so far, the response by the [Ivan] Duque Administration has been to deploy the military to different cities.  And I wonder whether or not the SG sees as problematic the fact that the Colombian Government is deploying the military to increase security and possibly heighten the tensions there.

Spokesman:  No, on… I think, as in any situation… similar situation, Governments have a responsibility to allow peaceful protests to go on, and I would refer you to what our Human Rights Office colleagues have said in that regard.  I think they issued something out of Geneva.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Hold on.  Let me just go to Osc… I think… Oscar had a question, and then we’ll go back to you, Ibtisam.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Do you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.  I don’t see you, but I hear you.

Question:  Do you hear me, Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Go… yes.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Just to follow up the question from my colleague Alejandro and, on this regard, does the Secretary-General has any communication with President Duque on this regard?  And… because as Alejandro mentioned, he says they deployed military forces to the street.  And we have been seeing these kinds of situations in many different countries, and when the President sends the military forces to clash with the civilians and it’s like playing… I mean, trying to extinguish the fire with gasoline.  And these circumstances, what’s the Secretary-General reaction or the message to the President Duque?

Spokesman:  There’s not been, as far as I know, any direct contact with the President and the Secretary-General.  As you mentioned, we have seen situations like this in other countries.  What is primordial is that the Government allow people to express themselves peacefully and to demonstrate peacefully.  Those are basic rights, and those are… that is our position in regard to places all around the world where we’ve been asked to comment on similar situations.

We’re, of course, following the situation, as we are in many other… in many other countries.  And, again, I would encourage you to check in with our colleagues from the Office of Human Rights.

Ibtisam?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, you issued a statement last week on the postpone… the announcement of the Palestinian Authority President that… Mahmoud Abbas that he’s going to postpone the elections.  But as a matter of fact, he’s actually cancelling the elections, and a lot of Palestinian human rights organizations and… said that that… and… oh, let’s put it this way.  One of the reasons that he named is the issue of Jerusalem and that Israel is not allowing Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote, which is true, but Palestinian human rights organizations also saying that his party in the polling is down and that one of the reasons he cancelled these elections is probably because left-wing parties and Hamas will win more seats.  So, do you have more to say than just taking note on this issue?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, obviously, this is something that the Special Coordinator’s office is following very closely.  And it is, I’m sure, no doubt, coming up in the discussions they’re having with various interlocutors.  What is important is that the Palestinians are able to express their will through the ballot box, and we hope that, whether it’s issues related to intra-Palestinian issues or issues having to do with the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories or especially in East Jerusalem having the ability to vote, we hope all those issues will be resolved so that Palestinians are able to vote.

Question:  But they don’t… I mean, there is no new date.  These elections are cancelled.  Do you think that this is…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, we do… we hope that a date is fixed.  It is not up to us to fix that date, but this is something that is being discussed with the various interlocutors.

We think… as Mr. [Tor] Wennesland said, we think it’s very important that a date is fixed.  We welcome the holding of the elections when it was announced, and we do think that these elections need to be held.

Question:  And do you say that this is unacceptable step to cancel such elections, although all factions are actually against such step, except for…

Spokesman:  Look, to say that it’s a complex political environment, I think, would be underplaying it.  Our position and one that we are expressing privately and publicly, is that elections… it is very important that a date for the elections be set.

Question:  On… if I may, on Israel and Palestine but a different subject, on the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem, I know that this is a very compli… I mean, there is about 3,000 Palestinians who live in this neighbourhood, and they face evictions since years.  And the story of Sheikh Jarrah has another story in Jerusalem, but the situation of the people who are facing eviction has to do actually with ’48 and the fact that, in 1948, they were displaced from west Jerusalem, and you couldn’t go back.  And the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) back then built some of these houses that they were being now evicted from, where settlers could go and take these houses.

What are you doing to help them?  Did Mr. Wennesland visit these families?  Because I saw that several European diplomats went there and visit families.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I don’t know if Mr. Wennesland went in person.  I can tell you that we’re very much aware of the situation that is ongoing in Sheikh Jarrah.  We’re following it closely.

Our position, which remains unchanged, is that all settlement activities, including the evictions and demolitions, are illegal under international law.  Security Council resolution, I think, 2334, and the international community will not recognize any change to the 1967 June lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed to by the parties themselves through negotiations.

Question:  Is there anything that is being done to help these families?

Spokesman:  I will check with our colleagues on the ground, especially with UNRWA, if they’re doing any… if there are any practical steps being taken.

Okay.  Seeing no other questions, I bid you all… I was about to say happy Friday but…  [laughter]

Correspondent:  I have a follow-up, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Yes, sorry.  Who was that?

Correspondent:  Oscar.

Spokesman:  Yes, Oscar.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  Oscar Bolanos.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Go ahead.

Question:  I’m sorry.  Just a follow-up, Stéphane.  And what is the message on this crisis in Colombia, where the police and the armies shooting against the civilians on the way to prevent and protect the civilians, on this kind of crisis, where the President, again, is sending military forces to control the demonstrations, and those demonstrations, as we can see, has been pacific, but it was the use of force of the national forces on site to create this kind of crisis at this level?

Spokesman:  Oscar, the issue… Governments throughout the world will deploy security forces to protect people and to protect the institutions.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is… whether in Colombia or anywhere else, is that people be allowed to demonstrate peacefully, be allowed to express themselves peacefully and be allowed to express their grievances peacefully, wherever that may be.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.