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6 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.

Let me work first and then I will ask you to do the same.

**COVID-19 Vaccines

You will have seen that earlier this morning, we issued a statement on the US announcement regarding Covid-19 vaccine patents.

The Secretary-General welcomes the United States Government’s unprecedented support for the waiver of intellectual property protections regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

It opens the opportunity for vaccine producers to share the knowledge and technology that will allow the effective expansion of locally produced vaccines and can significantly increase the supply to the COVAX facility.  We must also ensure that countries have the materials required to produce these vaccines.

We are all agreed:  none of us will be safe from the virus until all of us are safe.

**Memorial Service

The Secretary-General this morning paid tribute to the United Nations personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty over the course of last year.

He said that the year 2020 was like no other in the history of the UN.  The world faced a merciless pandemic that continues to sow tremendous suffering.  He added that in view of the magnitude of the pandemic and its extraordinary impact, this memorial service also honours all colleagues who passed away from the illness last year.

As a result, he said, this year’s memorial service paid tribute to the highest number of colleagues lost in a single year — honouring 336 of our colleagues.

Mr. [António] Guterres said that the staff honoured today embodied the essence of multilateralism — people around the globe joining forces to build a better world.

**Climate

This morning, he also spoke at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue.  In his remarks, Mr. Guterres warned that under current commitments, we are still heading for a temperature rise of 2.4 degrees by the end of the century, but added that if we work together, we can avert the worst impacts of climate disruption, and use the recovery from the pandemic to steer us to a cleaner, greener path.

“The bottom line” he added, “is that, by 2030, we must cut global emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010 levels to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.”

The Secretary-General said the success of COP26 (Twenty-Sixth Conference of Parties) rests on achieving a breakthrough on adaptation and finance.  He underscored that the forthcoming G7 Summit is a pivotal moment and called on the leaders of the G7 to take the lead, with other developed countries following, to make substantial climate financial pledges in the coming five years.

And we all have a small and narrowing window of opportunity to do the right thing, he said.

His text was shared with you.

**Yemen

I’ve been asked for a humanitarian update on Yemen and here is one.  The humanitarian situation is falling off a cliff, with more than 20 million Yemenis needing humanitarian assistance.

This includes more than 16 million men, women and children, who are going hungry this year.  Tens of thousands of people are already living in famine-like conditions, with 5 million just one step away.

COVID infections have been surging, with hospitals and health facilities reportedly turning away patients due to lack of resources to treat them.

Fighting has been escalating, especially in Marib, where an offensive by Houthi forces has so far displaced nearly 20,000 people and threatens the safety of millions.

The rainy season is also getting under way, with floods in recent days impacting more than 22,000 people — most of whom were already displaced and living in inadequate shelters.

Aid agencies need $3.85 billion to hold back a massive famine, respond to the COVID surge and meet other critical needs this year.  To date, the response is only 34 per cent funded.

The aid operation in Yemen used to help nearly 14 million people per month.  That’s now down to about 10 million people a month, mainly due to funding cuts.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia:  We have just released today $65 million for the humanitarian response in Ethiopia.  The amount is made up of $45 million from the UN-managed Ethiopia Humanitarian Fund and $20 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The funding comes as the security situation in Tigray remains volatile, aid workers are unable to reach all those in need, and COVID-19 cases have been reported among displaced people in Mekelle.

A total of $40 million will be dedicated to the aid operation in Tigray, where it will fund emergency shelter, clean water and health-care facilities.  It will also fund work to prevent and respond to cases of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as emergency telecommunications to support the humanitarian operations.

The remaining $25 million will fund humanitarian operations in the rest of Ethiopia, including in response to drought in the Somali and Oromia regions.

According to our colleagues, more than 16 million people need humanitarian assistance throughout Ethiopia, including 4.5 million in Tigray alone.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground tell us that they remain deeply concerned over the continued use of force against children, including use of live ammunition.

The UN team again calls on security forces to refrain from violence and to keep children and young people out of harm’s way.

According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), as of today, at least 53 children have reportedly been killed in the violence since 1 February.  Many more children have been injured.

**India — COVID-19

Moving on to India, where the UN team on the ground there continues to support the authorities — both nationally and locally — to tackle the pandemic.

UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have delivered nearly 10,000 oxygen concentrators, nearly 10 million medical masks and more than 1.5 million face shields.  Our team has also purchased ventilators and oxygen-generating plants.

UNICEF is also providing cold chain equipment for COVID-19 vaccines.  Our team has also delivered testing machines and kits, as well as airport thermal scanners.

Also, WHO is providing tents and beds for temporary health facilities and, as we told you last week, the agency has deployed thousands of public health specialists to help address the pandemic.

UNICEF and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are also helping to monitor more than 175,000 vaccination centres across India.

**Jerusalem

Moving on to Jerusalem, Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that he was deeply concerned by the surge in tensions and violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

Mr. Wennesland reiterated that the Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.  Perpetrators of violence on all sides must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice.

He added that the latest developments related to the eviction of Palestine refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem are also very worrying.  He urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

**Methane

A new report released today by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that human-caused methane emissions can be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade.  The reduction would avoid nearly 0.3 °C of global warming by 2045 and would be consistent with keeping with the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °Celsius within reach.

Methane accounts for nearly one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors:  fossil fuels, waste, and agriculture.  Because methane is a key ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone, otherwise known as smog, a 45 per cent reduction in this gas would prevent 260,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 25 million ton of crop losses annually.  That’s a lot.

More information on UNEP’s website.

**Food Prices

Our colleagues in Rome, at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), today said that the international food commodity prices rose for the eleventh consecutive month in April, with sugar leading the increase and cereals resuming their upward trend.

The FAO Food Price Index was up 1.7 per cent higher than March and 30.8 per cent higher than its level in the same month last year.  The index reached its highest level since May 2014.

**Virtual Press Encounter

Last note before you reach for your microphones.  Immediately following the Security Council meeting on the Middle East, on Syria, there will be a virtual stakeout by the current EU members of the Council — Estonia, France and Ireland — along with former EU Security Council members Belgium and Germany.

You will be able to watch that on the WebTV.

**Questions and Answers

Edie and then Célhia.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  As a follow-up on the Secretary-General’s statement supporting the US backing for waivers on the patents for COVID-19 vaccines, France has apparently followed suit.  But apparently, just one country voting against a waiver would be enough to block efforts at the World Trade Organization (WTO).  What will the Secretary-General be doing to try to push his support for this effort going through?

Spokesman:  Well, all the Sec… first of all, my understanding, from our WTO colleagues, that this process will take a little bit of time.  We’re heartened to see that others have also pushed… have also embraced the decision taken by the United States, and by that, I mean countries that have the technology and the patents.  We will continue to push for this position publicly and, obviously, privately, but it remains a Member State decision.

But I think what is also important is that this is a critical… this is a very important decision.  Obviously, this would be a very important decision if adopted by the WTO, but we also need to work simultaneously on the scaling-up of manufacturing, access to all the… ensuring that everyone has access to all the basic elements that are needed to manufacture the vaccine.

So, there are… it is not the end-all and be-all.  It is one very important part, but there are other things, including financial support, that we need to ensure that vaccines are produced in as many places as possible and as close as possible to those who will be consuming them.

Célhia de Lavarène?

Spokesman:  Merci, monsieur Stéphane.  Pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong has been sentenced [inaudible], so today, I guess, to an additional 10 months in prison, only for participation to a demonstration, previously was conden… sentenced to 13½ months in prison.  What does the SG think of this repeated human right violation?  And does he plan to talk to China about them?

Spokesman:  Look, I think our position remains the same in terms of what is… what we’ve seen happen in Hong Kong, and I would refer you to what we’ve said in the past, including on the importance of respecting the will of the people in Hong Kong.

Toby?

Question:  Thanks.  Hi, Steph.  My question is 336 is a very large number of employees who passed away… or UN personnel who passed away in the line of duty.  Can you put that number in some context for us, please?

Spokesman:  Well, we’re looking… this includes about 90,000 peacekeepers, and in terms of global UN staff… I’ll have to come back to you in terms of what the… from what pool of civilian… I mean, I know uniformed peacekeepers is about 90,000, 90 to 100,000, but let me come back to you on that because that’s a point that should have been included.

Okay.  Joe Klein, I think you had a question.

Question:  Yes, I did.  Thank you.  This is sort of a follow-up to the Cyprus informal talks last week.  Does the Secretary-General believe that the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot delegations and the three Guarantor Power delegations are negotiating in good faith?  And this would include his view of the Turkish Cypriot leader [Ersin] Tatar’s proposal for a two-State solution.

And what does the Secretary-General think about the thousands of occupation troops still stationed in northern Cyprus?

Spokesman:  I would real… I really have nothing to add to the talks to what the Secretary-General said at the end of the press conference in Geneva, and I would encourage… I think the answers to your questions are there.  He will reconvene in a few months after more discussions, another round of informal talks.  He’d asked the parties to come to Geneva for discussions, for open discussions.  That happened.  But I, frankly, have nothing to add to what the Secretary-General has already said on that… [cross talk]

Question:  Yeah, well, I don’t recall, in any of the remarks, any specific reference to this two-State solution proposal from the Cypriot Turkish side; and also… and also, the reference to the occupation troops in northern Cyprus, which is sort of like the elephant in the room, so to speak.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  The issue of security, security guaranties, all of that will have to come out in a comprehensive settlement.  And I think as… on the contrary, I think, in the remarks, he laid out the Turkish Cypriot position; he laid out the Greek Cypriot position.  It was clear to all from what he said that there needs to be more talks, so I think, in that sense, he referred to it pretty clearly.

Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following on Toby’s question, could you also get us a breakdown of the 330 peacekeepers who lost their lives in 2020, like each… from each… how many from each country?

Spokesman:  Yes, I think all that is public, and I’ll make sure you get to see it, Iftikhar.  [The list of all those who died last year was later shared with the media.]

Okay.  Elena?

Question:  Hi.  Thank you.  This is on re… in relation with email that I sent earlier, and I want to know, what are the UN expectations and vision for the European Union Social Summit that is going to happen tomorrow in Porto and Saturday?

And in addition to that, does the Secretary-General have a reaction to information that Member States have pushed to remove “gender equality” from the draft and leaving it only to “equality”?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  On your first question, I’ll have to get back to you.

On your… and your second one, I didn’t hear it properly.

Question:  Yeah, I sent it on email, so there was a draft in which some Member States have pushed to remove “gender equality”… to remove the word “gender” and leaving it only to “equality.” And the UN Special Rapporteur for Poverty has said this is a… this is cheating — let me just read on it — “this is like a treason to European principles.”

Spokesman:  I mean, I don’t think the Secretary-General’s going to get in the middle of negotiations that are taking place at an EU Summit.  His clear stance on the fight for gender equality, the fight for women’s rights is clear for all and remains unwavering and unchanged.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid.  Oh, and then Benno.  Sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  First, if you have a follow-up to my question yesterday about the visit of the three senior Turkish officials to Tripoli.

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  I did not… we did not get an update on that.  Sorry.  [He later shared a press release from the UN Support Mission in Libya concerning a 3 May meeting between Ján Kubiš and the Turkish Foreign Minister.]

Question:  Okay.  My question is about that the Israeli court delayed the eviction for the… until Monday.  I saw the statement on his Twitter by Mr. Tor Wennesland calling on Israel to stop the eviction of the Sheikh Jarrah, of people there.  However, from now until Monday, do you expect him to contact the Israel authorities to try to change… convince them to change their mind of evicting the people of Sheikh Jarrah?

Spokesman:  This is an issue… these issues regarding eviction and settlements is one that is regularly raised in meetings between the UN Special Coordinator and his Israeli interlocutors.  And I have no reason to believe that would change.

Question:  Lastly, I have a 16-year-old boy — Said Yousef Mohammad Odeh — was shot and killed last night at 9 south of Nablus.  Are you aware of this incident?

Spokesman:  No, but I will look at it.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Benno?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Steph.  Hello, colleagues.  I just wanted to ask you if you have an update on the investigation into Mr. [Fabrizio] Hochschild and the harassment allegations.

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  That work is continuing in as thorough and as quickly as possible, I think, for the benefits of everyone involved.

Question:  Then I do have a follow-up.  Do you have any indication why it’s taking so, I would say, long?  It’s been half a year, I guess.

Spokesman:  Listen, you want to… and again, let me just say, I don’t have… there’s no reason for me to be… to have knowledge of what is going on in the investigation.  It’s being done by our Office of Internal Oversight [Services] and done in an independent manner.

In any investigation, you want to talk to as many people as possible, and you want to establish the facts as best as you can.  It’s not our job to rush the investigators.  It is their job to do it thoroughly and with the… and as speedily as they can but to do it as thoroughly as they can for the benefit of everyone.

Question:  Then I do have a last follow-up.  Is there any time frame in which the patience of the Secretary-General would run out?  If it’s another half year, is that fine for the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  What the Secretary-General wants is something to be done of the highest possible quality and with fairness for everyone involved.

Okay.  Unless I see any other questions, anybody wave or jump up and down, I will leave the podium to Brenden [Varma].

For information media. Not an official record.