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18 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’s get this going because I know you are all here to see the people who will come after me.

**Press Briefing

So, immediately after we’re done, you will hear from the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, Ambassador Riyad Mansour.  And he will be joined by Ambassador Sofiane Mimouni, the Permanent Representative of Algeria and Chair of the Arab Group for the month of May.  And Ambassador Abdou Abarry, the Permanent Representative of Niger and Chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for May, here at the UN.

**Press Encounter

Then at 4:30 p.m., Ambassador Zhang Jun, the Permanent Representative of China and President of the Security Council for this month, will brief you at the Stakeout in person.

**Development

This morning, the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, kicked off a three-day virtual session with Member States on the state of the UN development system.  Mr. [António] Guterres said that the pandemic has reversed years of development progress and stressed the importance of international cooperation.  However, he outlined how the UN development system has responded in full force, including by rolling out 121 immediate socioeconomic response plans covering 139 countries and territories.  More than $3 billion was repurposed and an additional $2 billion was mobilized to prioritize — above all else — effective, immediate support to the people we serve, he said.  Looking forward, he highlighted areas for improvement, including the ability to deliver integrated policy advice, consolidating accountabilities at the country level, and increasing funding and investment in development activities.  The Secretary‑General appealed to Governments to give serious consideration to further capitalizing on the Joint Sustainable Development Goals Fund and similar joint funds, noting that the shortfall in funding for the Resident Coordinator system also undermines our shared objective of a more effective, accountable and transparent UN development system.

**Middle East

Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, told a UN forum on the question of Palestine this morning that the recent fighting has now claimed more than two hundred civilian lives, including children.  The suffering, damage and destruction are immense, she said.  Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo said the UN has been actively involved in mediation efforts with all sides with a view to ending the violence immediately.  She echoed the Secretary-General’s call on the parties to allow for the intensification of mediation efforts, which are also critical for delivering much needed humanitarian aid to the affected people in Gaza.  She commended the Member States who have intensified their diplomatic efforts to bring the parties back from the brink.

And on the ground, an update on the humanitarian situation, with the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing today.  It has allowed dozens of fuel trucks from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) to enter Gaza.  Regrettably, other essential humanitarian cargo was unable to cross.  It is critical that the Erez crossing is also opened for the entry and exit of critical humanitarian staff.  Humanitarian access into and out of Gaza for staff and goods must be sustained and appropriate measures taken to ensure safe movement within Gaza.  Overnight, we received extremely worrying reports of additional civilian infrastructure being hit in Gaza, including in the central COVID-19 testing lab and other health and humanitarian facilities.  In addition, we continue to receive reports of significant displacement of Palestinians within the Gaza Strip.  More than 58,000 men, women and children have been displaced, 47,000 of whom are seeking protection in some 58 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools across Gaza.  And as far as the security situation allows, the UN along with our partners provide food and non-food items to displaced families, and immediate cash assistance to more than 56,000 people.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council met on the Group of Five for the Sahel join force this morning.  Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of our peacekeeping department, said that in the past months, the fight against terrorist armed groups in the region has intensified.  Coordination between security actors on the ground remains paramount, he added.  The joint force of the G5 Sahel has continued to enhance its operational capabilities and remains a vital part of security responses to address extremist armed groups in the region.  Mr. Lacroix added that on the logistical support provided by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to the G5 Sahel, he said there is progress in this area, but also noted challenges in implementing the enhanced support mandate.  Mr. Lacroix reiterated the UN’s call for more predictable funding for the G5 Sahel.  The force, as he said, plays a critical role in the regional response to violent extremism.  In this regard, it is essential that it receives the assistance it requires to carry out its mandated tasks.  His remarks have been shared with you and those of Ms. DiCarlo are being shared as we speak.

**Libya

Meanwhile, our friend, Ján Kubiš, our Envoy for Libya, was in London yesterday where he met with high-level British officials, including those in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence.  Mr. Kubiš also met with Martin Reynolds, the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.  They discussed the United Kingdom’s support to the Libyan people and authorities in their quest for peace, stability, unity, and prosperity, including through the Security Council.

**Central African Republic

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)reports that 300 peacekeepers were deployed to Bakouma, in the Mbomou Prefecture.  They repaired six bridges on the Bangassou‑Bakouma axis to allow freedom of movement and also help ensure the safe conduct of legislative elections that are scheduled for Sunday.  The bridges had been destroyed by armed groups trying to isolate the town of Bakouma from Bangassou.  The peacekeepers also provided support to the final consignment of sensitive legislative election materials, which have arrived in Bangui.  Election materials were officially received by the National Electoral Authority.  As of yesterday, the deployment of electoral materials was completed in all prefectures, except Ombella M'Poko and Bangui.

**Rohingya

A couple of updates for you on the Rohingyas and our work with these refugees.  The World Food Programme (WFP) said that five years after the 2017 influx into Bangladesh of Rohingya refugees, food security in Cox’s Bazar remains a top priority.  A joint response plan [calls] for $943 million to help Rohingya refugees, as well as their host communities, and more than a quarter of those funds will go to fight hunger and malnutrition.

**Chile

And an update from our team in Chile, which welcomed yesterday the conclusion of an electoral process through which citizens elected their representatives for the Constitutional Convention, mayors and municipal councils, and for the first time, regional governments.  In a statement issued by the UN team on the ground, it said that through this act, citizens have expressed their will to build a common future, with this civic spirit reaffirming Chile’s commitment to a solid and inclusive democracy.  Our team also highlighted the historic gender parity in the constituent process and commended the allocation of 17 seats to members of ten indigenous peoples’ groups, with an additional quota for people with disabilities.  This inaugurates an opportunity to reaffirm the commitments assumed by Chile in the area of human rights and to accelerate the achievements towards sustainable and inclusive development.

**COVAX

And on our COVAX segment, Armenia received its second shipment of COVAX doses, bringing the total received so far to 74,000.  The UN team in Yerevan has been supporting the national vaccination campaign that kicked off last month, with nearly 20,000 people having been vaccinated so far.  We continue to help authorities to address the health dimensions of the pandemic by providing technical support and medical equipment, including oxygen concentrators.  We are also providing food aid and hygiene kits for the most vulnerable.  We are also working to counter misinformation, help asylum-seekers and refugees access information on vaccines.  In the Philippines, the UN team, led there by Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, continues to support the response to the pandemic, including by helping the country’s vaccine campaign.  The Philippines has received 60 per cent of the 4.5 million doses from COVAX so far.  More than 2 million people have received the shot.  The UN team is providing equipment, including mobile storage units and generators, as well as cold chain materials.

**Misinformation

And speaking of disinformation, our friends and colleagues at the Department of Global Communications, joined by the Permanent Missions of Namibia and the United Kingdom, are inviting you to a webinar discussion on how Government communicators can rise to the challenge of countering misinformation related to the pandemic and the vaccine.  That will be tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.  You can watch it on webtv.un.org.  It will feature remarks by Ambassador James Roscoe of the Permanent Mission of the UK, and Melissa Fleming, our Head of Global Communications.  The discussion will be moderated by Marianna Spring, the BBC’s Disinformation Reporter.  I should be a disinformation spokesperson.  Thank you.  Touché.

**Financial Contribution

And we end on a happy note.  We are now up to a 102 Member States having paid in full.  Anybody can take a guess of who paid?  Ethiopia.  And we thank them. Ms. Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  When you say that the Secretary‑General and the UN is actively trying to get both sides to allow the intensification of efforts at mediating a ceasefire, what exactly does intensification mean?

Spokesman:  Intensification means putting more effort into trying to find a way to get a ceasefire, to get a lull in the fighting so we can get more humanitarian goods in.

Question:  So, does that mean that, currently, whatever efforts are going on by the UN are not considered… what should I say… enough or at a minimum level and not serious enough?

Spokesman:  Well, listen, I don't think… no one's putting in doubt the seriousness of the discussions.  What… I mean, we can all watch the news.  We see that the fighting… the exchange of fire is continuing.  So, there are a number of Member States who are highly involved in this.  We're involved in this.  I think we all need to intensify our work so we get to the point where we want to be.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  Thank you so much.  Could you tell us with whom the UN is contacting, whom you are dealing with, whom you're trying to push further for more mediation?  What countries, which…?

Spokesman:  I mean, Mr. [Tor] Wennesland is in touch with all the relevant parties on the ground.  He's also talking to his Quartet partners.  We're talking to other Member States.  The Secretary‑General is also making phone calls and will continue to do that.

Question:  Did he contact the Israelis or Palestinians?

Spokesman:  Sorry?  Mr. Wennesland is in touch with both…?

Question:  No, I'm asking about the SG, if he…?

Spokesman:  The discussions on ground right now are focussed on… are led by Mr. Wennesland in speaking to the parties.  Sorry.  I didn't think I would have to prompt all of you.  Yeah.

Question:  Just a follow‑up on the humanitarian situation, you said other supplies weren't allowed in.  Can you give us more detail on what isn't being allowed in and where that leaves the humanitarian efforts?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, the reason the other trucks… yeah, the reason the other trucks were not allowed in is because of… we were advised by the Israelis, because of security situation.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  It was… my understanding is it was food, non‑food items, but we got… the fuel trucks are really a critical… the fuel is critical for Gaza.  Betul?  I'll come back to you, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Steph, just to clarify on the humanitarian situation, does that mean that parties of Israel or Hamas are preventing, or is it because the fighting is going on?  What prevents it?

Spokesman:  We were advised by the Israelis that, because of the security situation, the additional trucks we wanted to go through were not able to go through.  That's what I can tell you.  I mean, there is, obviously, a continuing of fire, but that's the reason we were given.  We can't push our way through, so… sidi rais?

Question:  Sidi rais.  Thank you.  After the ceasefire and once the dust has settled, does the UN have any plans of taking part in reconstructions, or are you going to leave it to others?

Spokesman:  There will be a great need for reconstruction of the infrastructure that was destroyed in Gaza.  The Palestinian people will need the help of the international community, the financial help of the international community.  We will get involved in it as much as we can.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My colleague just actually asked most of the question I wanted to ask, but you mentioned the international community would be involved in rebuilding Gaza.  Is there any particular country or organization that will be contributing to this, the rebuilding?

Spokesman:  No, what I said is that the Palestinians would need the help of the international community.  I think let's… sadly, this is not the first time we're at this situation.  In the past, it has been bilateral donors.  It has also been through multilateral channels, so I don't expect it to be different, but our focus right now is on stopping the casualties.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  What does the Secretary‑General want from the Security Council now?  They're having a fourth meeting on a ceasefire… or on some kind of statement, and we still have not even a basic statement on the protection of civilians.  I mean, what can he use from them to do his job better?

Spokesman:  What I… I think I answered the same question yesterday, a strong unified voice from the Security Council, for us, we believe, will carry weight in order to see a halt to the fighting.  Célhia? Oh, sorry.

Question:  Which one?

Spokesman:  Madame?

Question:  Well, it's about Africa.  I'm sorry because the world around… the President of the Chadian League for Human Rights said he has been subjected to daily harassment since the military took power.  He cannot go to his office.  His family has been threatened.  What can the UN do?

Spokesman:  First I've heard of… personally, first I've heard of the report.  We will look into it, but it is critical for Chad, especially during this period of transition, to allow civic space and to allow for people to express themselves freely on political ideas and anything else.  Okay.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  So, today, the Secretary of State of the United States said they are trying to work in a ceasefire to try to get to that point.  Is the United States getting more active trying to work here at the Security Council?  As he mentioned, we haven't seen a cohesive result from the meetings.  Is that something that the Secretary-General… maybe gets a heads‑up from the Secretary of State?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been in touch with the US Permanent Representative, but I will leave it to the US to qualify its involvement and its work.  I mean, as you know, the Security Council will be meeting, discussing this in closed consultations.  Let's see what comes out.  Mario, and then I'll come back to the room.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  I wonder if you have any comment on the situation in the Spanish city of Ceuta today, where thousands of migrants have been arriving during the day; tensions between Spain and Morocco have been rising during the past hours.

Spokesman:  I mean, I've seen the video this morning, which is quite distressing.  I think it's very important that both Morocco and Spain come to an agreement on trying to calm the situation, and it's yet another, I think, illustration of the challenges that we all face in trying to manage the global migration in a way that is humane and that is respectful of people's human dignity.  Let's go to Mr. Fazal, please.  Mushfiqul, please, go ahead.  I cannot hear you.  Okay.  We'll go back to the room.  Abdelhamid and then Betul.

Question:  Thank you again.  Do you know if the Secretary‑General will be addressing the GA on Thursday?

Spokesman:  Yes, he will be addressing the GA, and we'll share those remarks with you beforehand.

Question:  Yeah.  Are you aware that Egypt has contributed… pledged to contribute half a billion dollars for the reconstruction of Gaza?

Spokesman:  No, I had not seen that, but we, obviously, welcome it.  Okay.

Question:  And this… my question, you still call it fighting; you call on both sides.  Does the SG see what is exactly happening in Gaza?  There is a powerful State with a powerful army bombarding a small area of 100… 344 kilometres, day in and day night from sea, land and air, and civilians are dying by the minute.  Does he see that?  It's not an equal… two equal parties.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is very clear eyed, and he sees exactly what is happening, and that's why he's doing all he can, and he's instructed his Special Coordinator to do all he can to put an immediate stop to this fighting.  And that's why we're trying to help as many people as possible.  Toby and then Betul.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Did he an… I answered your question?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  Oh, that's very nice.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A question about the humanitarian situation again.  We've got about 50,000 people hiding in or taking shelter in schools.  Is UNRWA… were these facilities designed to do this? Is this a… is this safe, really?  I mean, what does that look like?

Spokesman:  The facilities were not designed to do this, but, sadly, these facilities have done this numerous times in the past.  Right.  It's place where people can try to find food, can find shelter, but it is… it won't be safe until we see the fighting stop.  Go ahead.

Question:  I'm sorry.  Did you receive any explanation of the Israeli attacks on these schools, some of the schools?  And second thing is, I know you'll… you said in the beginning of the pandemic that you take your cue from the city and authorities, and now they're changing the mask policy.  Do you envisage a change here…?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, we're… we are, in fact, reworking the proposals, suggestions we'll be bringing to Member States in light of not only the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines, but what Governor [Andrew] Cuomo has decided.  We're waiting… we're, obviously, in touch with the City, as well.  I mean, it's a multi‑layered thing.  We want to be able to reflect the environment in which we live.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

SpokesmanInshallah, yeah, exactly, exactly.  Put your mask back on and we'll see.  We'll try to go back to Mr. Fazal, please.

Question:  The schools?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Sorry.  What?  On the schools, our UNRWA colleagues, I know, are doing whatever they can.  We'll try to get some information from them.  Yes, please, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Mr.  Stéphane.  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  Yes.  So, on Bangladesh, I want to draw your attention, there is no minimum space left in Bangladesh for free journalism.  It seems self-censorship is another dark part of the [inaudible].  Just yesterday, one of the leading Bengali newspaper reporters, Rozina [Islam], was kept confined at the health ministry for more than five hours yesterday before being handed over to the police.  She was physically and mentally harassed by… while he… held by the health ministry officials.  Ms. Islam is known for reporting on corruption involving the Ministry of Health and others.  Top to bottom are corrupt regime in the country.  So… and another part is, those who are exiled, living outside the country, even at least three journalists I know who live in New York — Dr. [inaudible] and one journalist is Naseem Khalil — they are also getting life threat in… outside the country from the ruling party supporter.  So, what is your comment on this?  Because the journalism is very critical in the country both home and abroad, for the Bangladesh.

Spokesman:  Look, I've seen… we've seen the press reports on the journalist that was arrested in Bangladesh.  It is, obviously, something that we are looking at.  It is something that's concerning.  Our position has been clear.  Journalists need to be able to do their work free of any sort of harassment or physical threat anywhere around the world.  And, obviously, that includes Bangladesh and every other country.  I think we have seen the very important work that journalists all around the world have done during the pandemic, and they need to be able to continue that work, wherever they may work.  Betul, and then we have to go to our guests.

Question:  Steph, thank you.  One last question on Gaza.  As far as we know, the only centre for COVID testing in Gaza has also been targeted, and many people's [inaudible] are packed now in schools and they're seeking shelters in schools.  Is the UN concerned about the number of COVID cases, when you have people staying in the same schools and when the only centre for COVID testing is bombed?

Spokesman:  Of course.  Of course.  We've seen a number of medical… health facilities being destroyed.  All of this is happening in a situation where we know in Gaza, the humanitarian situation even before this latest round of fighting was not good, to say the least.  Access to vaccines was very challenging.  So, this only makes things worse.  Okay.

Correspondent:  Stéphane, Stéphane, I have a question.  I put it up on the chat line here, very quick question…

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Joe.  Might as well.

Question:  Very… thank you.  Do you know whether UNRWA has, in the safety of all concerned, checked to make sure that all of the schools are not currently housing any rockets or any tunnels have been built underneath the schools?  And if you don't know, would you be able to find out?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, you can always reach out to UNRWA.  What I can tell you is that UN facilities should never be used to house military or security activities, and they need to be protected at all times.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.