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5 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.

All right.  I guess that it is my turn first.  Good afternoon. 

**Noon Briefing Virtual Guests

In a short while, I will be joined by the WHO’s (World Health Organization) Chief Nursing Officer, Elizabeth Iro, and the Chief Executive of the International Confederation of Midwives, Dr. Sally Pairman.  They will brief us on the State of the World’s Midwifery 2021, a report jointly released by the WHO, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Confederation of Midwives. 

**Multilateralism

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly’s interactive dialogue to commemorate and promote the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace. 

He said that the most important achievement of the UN system is that there was no Third World War.  This has been the first time in history that, for more than 75 years, there has not been a major confrontation among super-Powers, he said. 

He also noted the UN’s role at the centre of decolonization, and its status as the body where international law and human rights standards are generated. 

Similarly, Mr. [António] Guterres said, the UN has been at the centre of the eradication of disease and the reduction of extreme poverty.  And that has continued to this day, with the UN playing a lead role in the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and in efforts to ensure vaccine equity in the fight against the coronavirus. 

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the security situation in Tigray remains unpredictable and volatile, with active hostilities impeding the scale-up of operations in rural areas. 

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported among displaced people in Mekelle who are living in cramped conditions, with insufficient isolation centres to mitigate a large-scale outbreak.  Health challenges include the lack of essential medicines and medical equipment, including oxygen cylinders in Shire, as well as fuel shortages for ambulance services. 

Despite these challenges, humanitarian partners continue to try and reach all people that need help in Tigray.  As of 29 April, the Government and the World Food Programme (WFP) had distributed more than 19,000 metric tons of food, reaching 1.1 million people in 35 districts in the region.  Last week, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy reached Samre and Gijet towns in the South-Eastern Zone of Tigray, and delivered emergency food, nutrition supplies, as well as non-food items.  A health clinic was also set up in Samre Hospital, which remains dysfunctional. 

Two hospitals in Adigrat and Axum are now providing psychosocial services to survivors of gender-based violence, with the UN Population Fund providing health kits for the clinical management of rape.  In addition, we, along with our partners, have distributed 19 sexual and reproductive health kits to eight hospitals and health facilities in three rural areas. 

Our humanitarian colleagues warn that additional personnel and funds, as well as unfettered and safe access, are required to scale up to the level needed to respond across the region. 

**Niger

And I have been asked about a reaction to the attacks in Niger, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attacks by unidentified gunmen that took place yesterday in the Tillabéri region of Niger, which reportedly resulted in 20 deaths, including civilians.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.

The Secretary-General urges the authorities in Niger to spare no effort in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

**Central African Republic

And the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tells us that yesterday the Minister of Justice and Human Rights in the country has issued an order establishing a Special Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious crimes, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law allegedly committed by national security forces and their allies.  They will investigate alleged violations that occurred during the operations against the CPC armed group that took place in between December last year and the end of April this year. 

The order was issued following the Mission’s recent submission to national authorities of a list of human rights violations allegedly committed by national security forces and their allies. 

In line with its mandate, the Mission continues to monitor, help investigate, and report in a timely manner on violations of international humanitarian law and on violations and abuses of human rights committed throughout the Central African Republic. 

**Mali 

And in Mali, our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) have published their quarterly report on human rights violations.   They say that the security situation has remained worrying in the first three months of the year.  It was marked by violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms involving militias and armed groups in the northern and central regions, as well as in the south of the country. 

Human rights violations attributable to the Malian defence forces and security forces, as well as to international forces, were also documented during this quarter.  In total, the Mission’s human rights division documented 421 violations and abuses of human rights and/or international humanitarian law causing the deaths of 106 people, including five children and six women.  This data represents an increase of over 11 per cent compared to the previous quarter. 

**Yemen

And moving on to Yemen:  The Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, has concluded today a week-long round of meetings with Yemeni, regional and international interlocutors in Saudi Arabia, as well as Oman. 

Mr. Griffiths has been pursuing a plan to reach a nationwide ceasefire to reduce the risk to civilians in Yemen, including stopping the assault on Marib by Ansar Allah.  He has also been pursuing efforts to lift restrictions on the Hudaydah ports and open Sana’a airport to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation we have been updating you on regularly.  Mr. Griffiths has consistently stressed that these measures would provide a conducive environment for the resumption of an inclusive political process that comprehensively ends the conflict in Yemen.  Unfortunately, he said, we are not where we would like to be in reaching this deal. 

Mr. Griffiths will continue to engage with the parties to the conflict and all involved to offer them opportunities to find common ground to advance the peace efforts. 

**Myanmar

And turning to Myanmar:  Our colleagues on the ground said today that there is a need to protect health-care workers and facilities, warning of the impact on public health of the violence that has been taking place since the military takeover of the Government in February. 

Since then, there have been 158 reported attacks on health-care workers and facilities, resulting in 11 deaths and dozens of injuries.  These comprise the majority of all attacks on health care globally since the beginning of February, and that is according to the WHO.  At least 31 health facilities across Myanmar remain occupied by the military.  At least 139 doctors believed to be participating in civil disobedience have reportedly been charged by the authorities. 

The acting UN Resident Coordinator, Andrew Kirkwood, said that the UN in Myanmar stands ready to continue to support the response to COVID-19.  But he stressed this requires that health facilities, workers and patients are safe and that medical personnel detained while exercising their right to freedom of expression are released immediately.

**COVID-19 — Pakistan

And in Pakistan, the UN country team, led by Resident Coordinator Julien Harneis, is helping authorities to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the areas of health, humanitarian aid and socioeconomic recovery. 

We have supported communications campaigns in multiple local languages and we have also reached more than 36 million people to date through these campaigns. 

Our team has also supported Pakistan’s national preparedness and response to the pandemic.  The UN has developed a platform to record financial contributions received, which stand at $3.4 billion so far.

Nearly half of those funds will go towards addressing the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, while more than one third will be earmarked for the Global Humanitarian Response plan. 

The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), for its part, has helped assess the pandemic’s social and economic impacts, which helped the Government allocate emergency cash assistance for workers in the informal economy. 

For its part, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is also helping 80,000 Afghan refugee families receive emergency cash assistance.

**COVID-19 — India

And across the border, in India, our UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) colleagues are telling us that they have sent millions of items — including face shields and surgical masks — to India.

UNICEF sent the supplies from its warehouse in Dubai to New Delhi.

UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said that unless the world steps up and helps India now, there will be reverberations across the region and the world in terms of virus-related deaths, virus mutations and supply delays.

As we told you last week, the agency has also supplied oxygen concentrators and oxygen plants, as well as COVID-19 testing machines and other equipment and supplies.

**Food Crises

And you saw earlier today the annual report launched on food, which warns that the number of people facing acute food insecurity and needing urgent life and livelihood-saving assistance has hit a five-year high in 2020 in countries beset by food crises.  The report was released by the Global Network against Food Crises, which brings together various UN agencies, the EU (European Union), governmental and non-governmental agencies all working to tackle food crises together. 

The report reveals that at least 155 million people experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels across 55 countries and territories last year.  That was an increase of around 20 [million people from the previous year]. 

More information online.

**World Portuguese Language Day

And today, as you all know, is World Portuguese Language Day.  In a message, the Secretary-General, who happens to speak Portuguese, said that this world day is a fair recognition of the global relevance of the Portuguese language. 

With more than 265 million speakers, that does not include me, sadly, spread through all continents, Portuguese today remains a major language of international communication and a language with a strong geographical projection, which is destined to increase. 

Speaking of destiny, I will take your questions. 

**Questions and Answers

Don’t be shy.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Can you give us some updates on what Martin Griffiths is doing and also Ján Kubiš?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, Ján Kubiš, as we told you, I think, yesterday, has been providing updates and working towards a meeting of the Libyan Political [Dialogue] Forum.  This…  I think the latest update is that he is providing material for them to decide on the framework for the upcoming elections. 

Martin Griffiths, as I just said, finished a round of discussions in Oman, in Saudi Arabia, with regional, national and local partners.  I think the overall tone of his message is clear, is that we are not at all where we want to be in terms of a nationwide peace process…  ceasefire, access to Hudaydah Port, opening up of the airport in Sana’a, the ongoing fighting in Marib. 

And as long as all those who have…  who are on the ground, who have direct influence on the ground, cannot find common ground, the people who will continue to suffer are the people of Yemen. 

Okay?  Madame and then madame.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Given what you said about the continuing attacks on health facilities and health workers in Myanmar, the fact that the national unity government has formed a People’s Defence Force to protect itself against the military attacks and the ongoing situation there, I’m wondering, does the Secretary‑General have anything to say or does the Secretary‑General support the call from some 200 NGOs (non-governmental organizations) today saying that the Security Council needs to do more to rein in the violence there, specifically an arms embargo?

Spokesman:  Look, I think what the Secretary‑General supports and will continue to support is for the urgency of a unified international response, and that needs to be done in close cooperation with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). 

We need…  the international community needs to act, in a sense, with one voice, though different components have different roles to play.  All of this needs to be done to prevent a further deterioration of the situation on the ground.  I mean, we’re continuing to see arbitrary arrests.  We’re continuing to see violence, and we need to help restore the democratic government to Myanmar.

Question:  Still, those unified calls for calm, so far, have gone nowhere.

Spokesman:  Look, I think we’re well aware of…  we’re well aware…  well…  excuse me.  Let’s try that again with fewer Ws.  We’re well aware of the situation on the ground and, frankly, the lack of progress.  That is not stopping us from continuing to do whatever we can, which is rather…  on the ground in terms of trying to continue our humanitarian work, having the Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, who is in the region, continue to interact with all the key relevant players.  And we will keep at it. 

It may be a matter of raising the volume.  It may be…  but I…  what we think is critical is a much more unified response. 

Lenka, and then we’ll go back to Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  What are the latest numbers on how many people in Myanmar require humanitarian assistance?

And how many stateless Rohingyas are there at the moment?  If you have.

Spokesman:  If I have, because if I don’t have, I will not…  it’s a very good question.  I mean, there are…  let me see if I have those…  if I can find those numbers while I entertain, perhaps, another question, but I will come back to you.

Sorry.  Edie and then Célhia.

Question:  Yeah.  Another follow‑up on Myanmar.  Christine Schraner Burgener sent a letter trying to go back to Myanmar last week.  Has she gotten a response?

And on Tigray, has the UN been able to get to all the rural areas that it has been trying to get to for humanitarian assistance?

Spokesman:  Our access in Tigray has increased, notably in terms of the number of people we’ve been able to send in.  However, I can’t say that we have been able to access every place that we want to go.  Part of the issue has been the continuing clashes and conflict in different areas, security issues.

In terms of Myanmar, in Myanmar, there were — this was as of early February, so before the full impact — about a million people needed some form of humanitarian aid.  About 336,000 people had been displaced from their homes.  We estimated about 600,000 Rohingyas remained in Rakhine State, and of those, about 126,000 are…  were confined to camp and camp‑like settings, which had been established since 2012.

So, despite that, I have to say, our organizations such as WFP have been able to assist some people as we’ve been updating you.  But that was…  those are numbers a few weeks ago.  Our access has diminished, and we can all imagine the humanitarian situation has not improved in any way. 

Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, in Mali, how many UN people are part of the Human Rights Office?  What is their role?  And could they monitor the human rights in the country?  Do they have the mandate to do so?

Spokesman:  They have…  well, they have a mandate…  let me just go back.  I don’t know how big the office is, but it’s fully or almost fully staffed.  They have a mandate, which comes under the Security Council resolution, which established the Mission, to monitor human rights in the country, which is exactly what they’ve been doing, whether it’s on armed groups, whether it’s on international forces, and whether it’s on the Malian security and police forces.

Question:  So, but why do we have so many human right violations?

Spokesman:  Well, they are there to report on the violations.  Preventing…  I think a very important part of preventing human rights violations is to shine a light on human rights violations, and that is a big part of [action against] impunity and of accountability. 

We will…  you prevent human rights violations by having strong institutions, by having peace, by people being allowed to live freely.  Our role is to monitor and report back what we see, and that’s what we’re doing in a very public way.

Monsieur and then madame.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’m not sure…  on Myanmar, I’m not sure you answered the question of Edie about the Special Envoy, if she…  If she get…  If she get an answer…

Spokesman:  No, thank you for monitoring my answers to Edie.

Question:  If she get an answer from the military?

Spokesman:  She’s not yet received an answer as far as I’m aware.

Question:  And where is she?

Spokesman:  She’s in Bangkok.

Question:  What is she doing?

Spokesman:  She’s in Bangkok.  She is continuing to work the phones, speaking with regional interlocutors.  I know ambassador…  there are a number of ambassadors who are accredited to Myanmar who are currently in Bangkok.  She’s meeting with them, talking to the country office.  She’s advancing her work but from the region.

Question:  Does she plan to go to another country, China, Singapore…?

Spokesman:  At this point, obviously, travel is a challenge because you need to do the quarantine.  So, I think…  she went to Jakarta, which is a critical place for her to go given the ASEAN meeting.  She had a number of very important meetings there.  I don’t have any updates…  further updates on travel, but she remains in contacts with people she needs to be in contact with. 

Madame?

Question:  Stéphane, just a reminder with…  we…  I asked yesterday about the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem. 

Spokesman:  Yes.  I’m sorry.  I should have had an answer for you, but I don’t.  I will…  I’m trying to get something from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).  [UNRWA later confirmed that it continues to provide relief for the families in Sheikh Jarrah, including by advocating for them.]

Question:  Sure.  And then a follow‑up on Yemen.  I know you…  you mentioned over the…  some issues that are obstacles like Hudaydah and — but could…  is it possible to get a little bit more details? Because we hear from the different parties, but could we hear from…  more from the UN where the UN stands and where the different parties from the UN standpoints…  stand?

Spokesman:  I mean, we are trying to bring the parties together.  We are not a party to the negotiation.  I mean, where we stand is we want the fighting to stop.  We want humanitarian access to increase.  We want Hudaydah Port open.  We want Sana’a airport open.  We want the fighting in Marib to stop.  That’s where we stand.  It’s clearly not where everybody else stands.  Every…  it’s a very complex situation, full of hurdles.

Mr. Griffiths has been doing the rounds, most recently between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, trying to bridge the gap between the parties.  But we’re, clearly, not where we want to be. 

He will report back to the Security Council, I think, next…  towards the end of next week, so you’ll hear fully from him then.

Question:  We have…

Spokesman:  We have asked.

Question:  I know.

Spokesman:  We have asked.  We will continue to ask.

Question:  On the humanitarian situation in Yemen, do you have any updates there?

Spokesman:  It remains horrendous, but I will try to give you an update with numbers rather than words. 

Okay.  Let’s go to the videotape, as we say.  James Reinl?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’m going to keep on going on Yemen, and then afterwards, if you can come back to me so I can ask a question about Lebanon. 

But on Yemen, about a month ago, you were at the podium, and you were…  there seemed to be a much more optimistic tone about the talks.  You were saying that the Sultan of Oman was playing an important role.  It seemed there was a degree of positivity and optimism, whereas today, the stuff that was coming from Mr. Griffiths is really bleak; we’re not where we want to be. 

These are closed‑door talks, and you’re not going to tell us exactly what’s been going on, but if you could pull back the curtain just an inch and give us any indication as you can as to what’s happened over these past four weeks and how we’ve gone from optimistic to pretty negative.

Spokesman:  Yes, as you say, we are not…  there’s an ebb and flow on this situation.  We are, sadly, at low tide currently, and it is not…  it is this despite all of the effort…  the best efforts of Mr. Griffiths, the critical work that the Sultan of Oman, as well, has been doing. 

There are parties in this conflict.  There are men, one would assume mostly men, with their fingers on the trigger of various weapons.  Those weapons continue to be fired off, used, often indiscriminately, towards civilians.  That needs to stop. 

There are people who are blocking ports from being re‑opened, humanitarian access from being given.  That also needs to stop.

So, I wish I could…  but I think those are questions that really need to be asked of the various parties.  I cannot speak for the parties.  I can speak for Mr. Griffiths and the work that we’re doing, but I think you have to ask the parties directly involved in the conflict why we’re not in a better place. 

Okay.  Maggie?

Question:  And if it was okay, I was going to come back and ask one quickly on Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Why don’t you go…  why don’t you go ahead since we have the communications established?

Question:  Thank you.  And sorry, Maggie.  Yes, so, there are these talks takings place between Israel and Lebanon in the south of Lebanon at the moment about this maritime dispute.  The talks are taking place on the UN’s base down there, but I think they’re being led by the Americans and the two parties involved.  And I guess that’s probably something to do with the fact that the UN, after Mr. Kubiš’ departure, doesn’t have a Special Envoy in Lebanon.  Can you just give us a state of play, from the UN perspective, on what’s taking place there? Who is leading it from the UN’s point of view?  And… 

Spokesman:  That is…  Sorry.

Question:  Go ahead.

Spokesman:  I’m sorry.  Go ahead.  Finish your question.

Question:  No, shoot.  And are we going to be able to get sort of any details or information about what’s taking place there from you guys?

Spokesman:  Sure.  So, the format of these discussions has been well established, the discussions that are going on, on the maritime boundary. 

The discussions are being held…  hosted in UN premises under the mediation of the United States.  We will continue to support the process as requested by the parties, but this format, as opposed to the format on the discussions on the land boundary, is separate.  But it has been established, I think, back in…  last year.  It is a continuation of that process. 

It…  the fact that Mr.  Kubiš’ replacement hasn’t yet arrived in country, though she’s…  as you know, she’s been named, the former Permanent Representative of Poland, that’s separate from these talks. 

One could imagine why it’s easier to have the…  those discussions being held on UN premises because we have…  it is the place where representatives of both countries have met in the past, but for the maritime talks, they are being held under the mediation of the United States.

Okay.  Margaret Besheer?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am, I can.

Question:  Oh, okay.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Hello.

Spokesman:  Hello.

Question:  On Myanmar, please, one more time on Myanmar, what specifically would the Secretary‑General like to see in this unified international response?

And does he believe that an arms embargo could be an effective tool in this situation?

Spokesman:  Look, what he wants to see is a restoration of the democratically elected Government in Myanmar.  What he wants to see are the political prisoners that have been detained, including the President and Aung San Suu Kyi, freed.  What he wants to see is an end to the violence and the end of the indiscriminate killings of peaceful demonstrators.  That’s the ultimate goal.  It is important that the international community speak with one voice to get to that goal. 

As for the tools, the Security Council has different tools in its toolkit.  As a matter of policy — and the Secretary‑General has spoken about this in the past — sanctions and these sorts of things need to be targeted in a way where they do not hurt the general population.

Question:  Steph?

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  Does he…

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  Steph?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  But as Secretary‑General, does he not feel he needs to offer some sort of road map to the international community to help get Myanmar out of this crisis?  I mean, his predecessor had the group of friends on Myanmar, was very actively involved using his good offices, trying to get Myanmar on the path to democracy.  So, does the current Secretary‑General feel he should continue that?

Spokesman:  What…  I think the…  one of the key tools that the Secretary‑General feels the international community had is the regional approach through ASEAN, which we’ve been supporting, the discussion…  Myanmar’s neighbours, as well, who may not be part of ASEAN also have a critical role to play. 

I mean, I think the…  one can always look at the historical context, but it was a different context, I think, in 2000…  after the cyclone, which was, what, 2000 — I can’t remember exactly when — which offered an opportunity for opening the door in Myanmar where there was also, I think — and I…  I’m delving into an historical analysis here, but there was a more receptive…  there was more…  there was a greater receptive environment within the military authorities in Myanmar for that outreach.  This is not the case as we see it now. 

But we will continue to try, and we are continuing to outreach to military authorities, as Miss Schraner Burgener has done.  And we will continue our efforts in partnership with ASEAN, which…  and the broader international community.

Question:  Has he made any phone calls specifically about Myanmar recently, or is he leaving it all in her hands?

Spokesman:  No, the Secretary‑General has been making calls over the last…  I mean, since this crisis started regularly to leaders in the region, ASEAN Foreign Ministers, and others, and this issue has also been raised in a number of bilateral meetings.  He’s very much following this closely and lending his direct voice and direct contacts when necessary and when most useful.

Okay.  Evelyn, and then we’ll go to Abdelhamid and then Toby.

Question:  [inaudible] has the Special Envoy that…  has the Special Envoy mentioned this, or has it had any impact, or is it still too much a secret to even think about it?

Spokesman:  I didn’t hear the first part of your question, what Special Envoy you’re referring to.

Question:  Yes, I said Iran and Saudi Arabia have been speaking, obviously, about Yemen.  And I wondered what kind of impact or what kind of mention it might have had by the Special Envoy.

Spokesman:  They…  we’ve not…  I mean, we’ve seen the press reports of these direct talks.  Obviously, both countries have a regional influence and are…  have an importance in that conflict.  So, dialogue amongst nations is always something that we welcome.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the weekend, there was a visit by three Turkish senior officials, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Defence, and the head of intelligence, and they spent some time in Tripoli.  And I wonder if Mr. Kubiš had any encounter with the Turkish delegation or if he was briefed by the Government of National Unity or he has at least some feedback from those meeting?  So, what you can tell us about that?

Spokesman:  That’s a good question.  I will find out. 

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Toby and then Oscar and then Ali. 

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Can you tell us any more about the meeting between the Special Envoy and the head of the Tatmadaw? Can we know anything more about that?  Or is that still, you know…

Spokesman:  No, not more than what was, I think, shared with you by Farhan [Haq] last week.

Question:  What…  were there any…

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  No, just, you know, the…  it’s…  can we expect more information to be released about this, or it’s just a black box?

Spokesman:  I think part…  some of these discussions need to be held in a black box.  The important thing for us is the result.

Oscar and then Ali Barada.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you so much for this opportunity again.  And my question is about to follow up the situation in Colombia, and today is the eighth day of demonstrations and violence in the region. 

My question is, what mechanism can be applied to prevent, to see how the history is repeating again, worldwide crisis like the case now in Colombia?  And what mechanism can be applied to protect civilians in legitimate way or right to protest and the mechanism to protect them from the systematic use of force by Government security forces in clashes with civilians? And I have a follow‑up, please.

Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that, obviously, the Secretary‑General is following the situation with…  in Colombia with serious concern, including the violence we’ve seen, the reported violations of human rights, within the context of these…  of the protests that you just mentioned.

I think, for our point, it’s very important that the Colombia authorities exercise restraint, ensure full respect for human rights and [he] calls on all actors to refrain from acts of violence and vandalism. 

And he calls for calm and appeals to all Colombians to urgently pursue solutions to the challenges facing the country through peaceful and inclusive dialogue. 

And I think that last bit is the most important, is that only through a peaceful and inclusive dialogue can you avoid violence, can you avoid the violation of human rights.

Question:  Okay.  Colombia’s still on a critical high level of cases of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  The blocking of the important roads in the country is creating a humanitarian crisis due to lack of food, medicine and gasoline in different cities in the country. 

What is the message now from the Secretary‑General on this way to see if there is any ways that the UN can help to…  help to open any humanitarian count to bring the aid for the regions that are being locked down from assistance?

Spokesman:  Our work on the development side, on the COVID side in Colombia is to support the Government’s own efforts.  It is clear that, in any country, any kind of internal disturbances has a negative impact on the fight against COVID, and we will continue to support the Government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

Okay.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question on Iran and there are some former senior UN officials who participate in a letter to the UN to ask for an international investigation into the events that happened in Iran, the persecution of hundreds of people in 1988 and the grave violations of human rights in Iran.  This is my first question.

My second question is about the situation at the UN regarding COVID, and I wonder whether there are any UN personnel in the Headquarters that are refusing to vaccinate and what the UN leadership is doing with that. 

And the last question is whether the SG is travelling to the England…  to the United Kingdom next month to participate in the G7, whether he’s invited or not.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me…  let’s take it backwards.  Secretaries‑General, including Mr.  Guterres, [have] traditionally participated in one way or have been — excuse me — have traditionally been invited to participate in the G7.  I don’t have anything to confirm for you at this time.

On the vaccination, listen, we have encouraged people who have the privilege of having access to the vaccine to take the vaccine, as a way to protect yourself, protect your community, protect your family. 

We do not have the authority nor would we want the authority to force UN staff to take the vaccine.  It remains a personal choice.

We encourage UN staff who have taken the vaccine to report back to us so we can have an idea of how many people have taken the vaccine, which will be an important…  which is an important number for us to have.  That is done anonymously.  So, we’re not in the business of forcing people.

Your first question, if you don’t mind…?

Question:  Before you move to Iran…  before you move to Iran, if I may, do you have any numbers for how many people in the Headquarters, how many personnel, who have already vaccinated or who are in the process now of doing that…

Spokesman:  I mean, given that the vaccine is now available in New York State, at least to anyone up to the age of, I think, 12 or 13, I would assume that every UN staff member now has the ability to get the vaccine.  I’m not aware of anybody under the age of 12 working for us.  At least we don’t want that.

Question:  I’m not…  this is not my question.  I’m sorry.  I’m asking whether…

Spokesman:  No, no.  I don’t have the numbers to share with you in terms of the percentage that have received it yet.  And again, the issue…  people’s medical decisions are private.  So, we encourage people to report back to us if they have been vaccinated, but we do not force people to…  we do not…  we cannot force people to take the vaccine, and it is not mandatory for them to share that information with us.

Does that answer your question as much as…

Question:  Yeah, yeah, and whether you’re going to take any action with the personnel who refuse to…  openly who refuse the vaccine.

Spokesman:  As I said, we can’t…  there’s no action to be taken because we can’t force people to take the vaccine, and we can’t force people to tell us if they’ve taken the vaccine.  I don’t think anyone would want to work for an organization…  have an employer in that way.

Obviously, as the vaccination rates increase, as the restrictions decrease in the…  in New York, we will look at opening up the building more. 

We have now…  the footprint that we’re allowing is about 40 per cent of staff to be in the building.  We’re a bit below that.  But we continue to work on plans to gradually increase our footprint in a safe manner, and we’re, obviously, working with Member States to see how we can be as safe as possible for delegates and staff and even…  and journalists and how we can best support them in organizing the intergovernmental meetings.  We’re going to share some options with Member States and recommendations later in May.

Okay.  Then we’ll go to…  I think your question on Iran, and then we have to go to our guests, who have been very, very patient and, hopefully, been somewhat entertained.

Your…  can you repeat your question on Iran?

Question:  So, on Iran, there are a bunch of former senior UN officials who participated in a letter to the UN about the so‑called massacre that happened in 1988.  They’re asking for an investigation, international investigation, into that and into the grave violations of human rights in Iran. 

Spokesman:  Sure.  So, our human rights colleagues have received the letter.  They’ve been in touch with some of the signatories.  For us, the establishment of an International Commission of Inquiry is a decision for Member States to take.  However, the Human Rights Office and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights in Iran have reported persistent immunity for grave violations of human rights in Iran and the call for accountability.  It’s an issue that the Human Rights Office and the High Commissioner have repeatedly called for.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Thank you.  We will now leave you with our guests, and I’ll also leave you in the hands of Stephanie [Tremblay], who will moderate, because unfortunately, I have…  we’re a bit delayed, and I have a meeting with the boss.  So, Stephanie, please, go ahead.

For information media. Not an official record.