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25 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.

**Mali

All right.  Good afternoon.  I will start off with Mali and I can tell you that the Secretary-General is continuing to follow the evolving situation very closely.  He is being briefed on the latest developments.  Mr. [António] Guterres continues to call for calm and for the immediate release of detained civilian leaders of the Malian transition.

We are working closely with the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS), and of course the African Union and all other international actors that are supporting the ongoing political transition in Mali.

From the ground, our colleagues in the UN peacekeeping mission there (MINUSMA) continue to monitor the latest developments and reiterate its strong condemnation of the arrest of President Bah N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, as well as some other of their colleagues.  This action has serious consequences for Mali and the region as a whole.

Our colleagues are seeking to gain access to those detained as soon as possible and to ascertain the conditions of their detention and obtain guarantees of their fundamental rights and freedoms, as enshrined in international human rights law.

Yesterday evening, in a joint statement, the local committee monitoring the transition which brings together the UN Peacekeeping Mission, ECOWAS and the African Union, expressed their deep concern at the ongoing situation.

They were joined in this statement by members of the international community, including France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union.

They also stressed that the members of the military who are detaining them will be held personally responsible for the security of the civilian leaders.

They also reaffirmed their firm support for the transitional authorities and called for the transition to resume its course and to be concluded on schedule.

Through this statement they welcomed the arrival of an ECOWAS delegation in Bamako — that is supposed to happen today — and asked for full cooperation in efforts to achieve the immediate resumption of the normal course of the transition.  We may have a further update from the Secretary-General later on this afternoon.

**Gaza

Turning to our update on Gaza and from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):  Today, COVID-9 vaccines from the COVAX facility were dispatched to Gaza, through the Erez crossing, with the support of the Israeli authorities.  This crossing is also open for international humanitarian staff.  However, it remained closed to Palestinian travellers since 11 May, including to humanitarian personnel and those with medical referrals for treatment not available in Gaza.

The Kerem Shalom crossing is open for the passage of humanitarian goods.  And today, we are happy to report that two UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) trucks carrying 38 metric tons of food provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) were able to pass into Gaza.

The Rafah crossing, which is in the south between Gaza and Egypt, was also open in both directions yesterday, allowing for the entry of some humanitarian aid from bilateral partners.  We understand that supplies from Egypt, Kuwait and others are being channelled through Rafah.  We understand that the flow of Egyptian-imported supplies including fuel continues at a stable pace.

We reiterate the need for all crossings into Gaza to be opened and stay open.  This is essential for the entrance of humanitarian supplies, including fuel for basic services and supplies to curb the spread of COVID-19 virus.  Opening the crossings will also ensure the exit of patients who need life-saving treatment and the crossing of Palestinian humanitarian personnel who are critical to the response.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground today repeated their call for an immediate release of dozens of journalists still in detention since Myanmar’s military seized power on 1 February.

Since then, at least 88 journalists have been arrested, including an American correspondent who was detained at Yangon airport on Monday.  As of today, at least 52 journalists remain in detention and eight media outlets have had their licenses revoked.  On 12 May, one journalist was found guilty and jailed for three years.

The arrest of journalists and the violence used by the military on anyone caught trying to report or record their actions constitute an extraordinary attack on freedom of expression in Myanmar.

**Belarus

Turning to Belarus:  Today, the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva said that, like so many others, they are shocked by the unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention of the Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich after the plane on which he was travelling was forcibly diverted to Minsk.

The UN Human Rights Office is also concerned about Mr. Protasevich’s girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who has also reportedly been arbitrarily arrested.  The office calls for the immediate release of both Roman and Sofia, both of whom should be allowed to continue to their intended destination in Lithuania.

**Africa Day

Today is Africa Day.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that Africa’s rich and diverse cultural and natural heritage is important for sustainable development, poverty reduction, and building and maintaining peace.  It can provide a strong foundation for inclusive economic progress as the continent strives to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19.

In order to end the pandemic, support economic recovery and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Secretary-General said that we need to ensure equitable and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines.  The latest figures show that to date, African countries have received just 2 per cent of the global vaccines.

And tomorrow, at 9 a.m., the Secretary-General will open the Public Policy Forum of the 2021 Africa Dialogue Series.  This year’s theme is “Cultural identity and ownership:  reshaping mindsets”.  The dialogue is hosted by the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, in collaboration with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the African Union.

You can watch it live on the web thanks to our friends at UN WebTV.

**Extractives

This morning, the Secretary-General convened a virtual round table on transforming extractive industries for sustainable development.  He told those in attendance that extractive industries have the potential to drive economic growth and poverty reduction.  However, he said that we cannot escape the fact that the extractive industries are also potentially associated with a litany of ills — corruption, exploitation, colonialism; racism; environmental degradation, worsening climate change and biodiversity loss; as well as armed conflict, gender-based violence, population displacement, cultural harm and human rights violations.

The Secretary-General said that our shared responsibility is to ensure that the benefits of mineral resources reach all people in society, not just the elites, all the while safeguarding the natural environment today and for future generations.

Mr. Guterres also highlighted four imperatives which include improving extractive resource governance, reducing dependence on revenues from these industries, investing in a low-carbon future and having greater regional and global coordination to manage shocks and ensure a smooth, just and sustainable transition.  His remarks, as well as the Secretary-General’ Policy Brief on this topic, have been sent to you.

**Security Council — Somalia

Today, the Security Council held an open meeting on the situation in Somalia.  The Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNSOM), James Swan, noted that the political process to implement elections in Somalia has faced many obstacles in recent months.

Mr. Swan urged Somali leaders to find solutions in good faith, and to demonstrate the leadership the country requires of them at this historic moment.  He stressed that the signatories of the 17 September Agreement must now commit to a clear way forward with the holding of elections.

Mr. Swan pointed out that the security situation in Somalia continues to be of grave concern.  He said that Al-Shabaab remains a serious threat manifesting the ability to plan and execute complex attacks on a range of targets across Somalia.  Recent incidents are outlined in greater detail in the Secretary-General’s latest report.

Mr. Swan also noted that the humanitarian situation is still dire, with 5.9 million Somalis — that’s more than one third of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance this year.

His remarks have been shared with you.

And I just want to flag that in the afternoon, the Council will hold an open meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will brief Council members.  He is expected to say that in many countries, deadly conflicts have made it more difficult to control the spread of COVID-19.

We’ll share these remarks with you under embargo.

**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

An update from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which is working to restore normalcy following the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano last month.

The work is shifting from providing aid to recovering better and boosting preparedness for the next hurricane season, which starts next week.

Of the 23,000 displaced people, over 4,000 are in shelters and over 18,000 in private homes.  More than 830 households received offers of cash assistance under the cash-transfer relief programme by the World Food Programme.  Formal education is also re-opening and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is supporting online learning for some students and face-to-face education for over 3,000 students in 60 education hubs throughout the country.

A joint team from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and OCHA has also finished up an assessment to support the national plan to safely clean up ashes and boost access to clean water.

However, only one third of the $29.2 million Funding Appeal is currently funded.  A recent pledge of over $3 million by the United States will further support the ongoing appeal.  Twenty-nine million dollars is not that much money.  You can buy a couple of townhouses in New York for double that price.  So, please give money.

**COVAX

COVAX updates:  Yesterday, Colombia received its fourth shipment of COVAX-backed vaccines, bringing the total number from COVAX to more than 1 million doses arriving in Colombia.  This latest shipment will help Colombia press ahead with its national vaccination scheme.  More than 8 million doses have now been administered.

Moldova received 100,000 doses from COVAX last week, enabling the country to begin the third phase of its national vaccine campaign.  All eligible people can now receive a vaccine.  As of today, more than 300,000 have received at least one dose.

For its part, Montenegro last week received its second shipment of COVAX vaccines as part of a total of 48,000 doses that the country will receive through COVAX.  Some 20 per cent of the Montenegrin population has received first doses.

Our UN team in Montenegro continues to support efforts to address the health crisis, including through providing training and medical equipment.  The team is also working to fight the misinformation battle through the Secretary-General’s Verified campaign.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Lastly, a senior personnel appointment:  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Lieutenant General Birame Diop of Senegal as the Military Adviser in the Department of Peace Operations (DPO).

Lieutenant General Diop succeeds Lieutenant General Carlos Humberto Loitey of Uruguay, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service to the United Nations and his important contribution to advancing the work of the military components in peace operations and to strengthening the partnership with troop-contributing countries.

We thank Lieutenant General Loitey.

Lieutenant General Diop brings with him over 30 years of military experience.  He is currently serving as the Chief of Defence Staff of the Senegalese Armed Forces.  He previously held the position of National Security Adviser to the President of Senegal and Air Force Chief of Staff in Senegal as well.  Much more on him in the background note.  And we welcome him to the United Nations.

And I welcome you.

**Questions and Answers

Mademoiselle Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Three questions.  One on Mali first.  We’ve seen the second military takeover in the past nine months.  Did the UN Mission have any indications, or did they have any warning to you?  Was this a surprise to the UN?

And the second question, yesterday, the Secretary-General called for a full transparent and independent investigation into the forced landing of the flight and the arrest of the Belarusian journalist.  Just to clarify, who was this called for?  Who should launch this investigation, the Belarusian authorities?

And the third one on Syria, I think, if I’m not mistaken, they’re holding elections in Syria tomorrow.  Do you have anything to say on that?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Hi, Betul.  [laughter]

On… let me start with the… let me start with Syria, if you don’t mind.  I mean, we are, of course, aware that the elections are taking place.  It’s important to remind you in answering the question that this is not… these are being called under the auspices of the current Constitution and not part of the political process that was established under [Security Council] resolution 2254 (2015).  We are not involved in these elections, and we have… in any way, and we, of course, have no mandate to be.

I think we also need to look at the broader ongoing context and stress the importance of a negotiated political settlement to the situation in Syria.  I think, in that regard, resolution 2254 mandates that the UN facilitate the political process that would culminate in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with a new Constitution administered under UN supervision and to the highest international standard and that are inclusive of all Syrians, including members of the diaspora.

On Mali, no, clearly, this came… this was not something that we had been forewarned about.  If we had, I think it would have been clear we would have spoken up.

It is, indeed, very troubling because Mali was already in a transitional period.  This is… this does not help in any way, shape or form.  I think it’s very… the ECOWAS delegation will play an important role.  We very much hope that the authorities in Bamako meet and engage with them in order to put the transition back on track.

Your first question, on your first question, I think there are different… obviously, the Belarusian authorities should do, but there are other formats that could be contemplated.  Given the complexity of international air travel, I think a number of countries, given the ownership of the airline, the plane, also under ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) rules, there are different avenues for which these investigations could go on.  What is very important is that we would want to see the two people, Roman and Sofia, released as quickly as possible.  Yeah?

Question:  A follow-up, both on Syria and Belarus, has Mr. [Geir] Pedersen had any contacts with the Syrian authorities about the elections?

And back to Belarus, what are the other options to start an investigation?  And, obviously, you wouldn’t expect that from the Belarusian authorities, would you?

Spokesman:  I think everyone has a role to play in the investigations.  As soon… if I have more information on different concrete avenues, I will share them with you.

Mr. Pedersen is… and his team are in contact with Syrian… their Syrian interlocutors very often.  What the nature of those recent discussions on the elections have been, I have nothing to share with you.

Célhia, and then we’ll go to Amanda.

Question:  About Mali, Stéphane, is the Mission [inaudible] its work, or how does it go for the Mission?

Spokesman:  I mean, the Mission… the bulk of the military presence and security presence of the Mission is not in Bamako.  So, they are… whether they’re in the north, in Gao or Mopti, they’re continuing their work in supporting the people of Mali.

This is, obviously, a moment of lack of stability in Mali, so I think it’s even more important that the Mission be out there, and they are continuing fully implementing in a very proactive way their mandate.

Sorry, Amanda, and then Toby.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  I have a couple questions, first on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, then I can ask another?  There are reports that the Tribunal… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Can you start with the other, if you don’t mind?

Question:  Sure.  The other is… [laughter] I can do that.

Spokesman:  It gives me time to sneak and look for the answer on my phone.

Question:  Got it.  Okay.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  The other is on Tigray.  Al Jazeera’s gotten multiple testimonies about ongoing attacks on rural villages around the town of Aksum, thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.  Does the UN have any information about what’s going on?

Spokesman:  No, we’ve seen a number of recent… very disturbing reports on the humanitarian situation in Tigray and the direct impact on people, whether it’s on… whether through violence or lack of access to humanitarian goods.  These things need to be looked at.  We are looking into them as much as we can, but this is something I may have a bit more for you on later.

And on Lebanon?

Question:  Sorry.  On the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, there are reports that it’s run out of funding.  Do you have an update on this?  This means the Tribunal could shut down.  I know that’s something the Secretary-General has warned about.  What would this mean for the cases that are still in process?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We’re aware of the funding situation of the Tribunal.  The Secretary-General has been actively engaged in efforts to secure additional monies for the Tribunal.  He’s made direct appeals to Member States and the international community, requesting some sort of an emergency funding, as well as assistance from the General Assembly.

He continues to urge Member States and the international community for voluntary contributions in order to [ensure] the funds required to support the independent judicial proceedings that remain before the Tribunal.

Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Two questions for you today.  First one, US re-opening Jerusalem consulate, upgrading… effectively upgrading ties with Palestinians, does the SG welcome this?  Or do you…

Spokesman:  I mean, whether or not it’s actually happened, I’ve seen the reports of the intent to happen.  If it does happen, we do think it is a positive step.

Question:  Thanks.  And second, on Belarus, isn’t it a bit Orwellian to call these “arbitrary arrests”?  I mean, it’s like the most opposite from arbitrary… they scrambled a fighter jet to bring down a civilian aircraft.  There’s nothing arbitrary about it.  It’s a political arrest, and it’s the same thing that we’re seeing in Myanmar.  Isn’t… doesn’t that term get in the way?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I see your point, and I hate to engage in a linguistics debate with a native English speaker when I’m not.  By that, we mean that these were not legal arrests, but I understand your point.

Question:  And then there are calls now for a Security Council meeting on the Belarusian move.  Is this a good idea?

Spokesman:  I mean, that’s for the Security Council to decide.

Philippe and then… sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  First, this morning, I was at the Security Council chamber.  I was alone in the media area.  Can you do something regarding the Secretary-General or maybe the President of the Security Council to have a little more transparency in… at UN?

And my second question, it’s… any news about the Guernica tapestry?

Spokesman:  No, no news or Guernica.  It’s… I will… it’s a good moment to check.  So, I will do that.  I don’t really understand what the issue was in your first comment.

Question:  They just asked me to leave the Security Council chamber, saying that, because of the pandemic…

Spokesman:  The chamber or the stakeout area?

Question:  No, the chamber.  I was in the chamber on the media…

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, we’ll check with media liaison… [cross talk]

Question:  They told me that, because of the pandemic, only the 15 members can have a meeting… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Okay.  I mean, I’ll… I know the… [cross talk]

Question:  And you know that it is very different to see on TV just one camera on the one speaker… and being in the room and you can see everything.

Spokesman:  No, no, I… listen, I completely agree with you.  We’ll see if we can get some seats in the gallery.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yoshita.  Sorry.  You’ve been very patient.

Question:  The first… Minister, Dr. [S.] Jaishankar met the Secretary-General today.  Do you have any readout of Secretary-General’s comments with him, what…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  They had a… the Secretary-General had a very good discussion with the Foreign [Minister].  They discussed COVID-19, the issue of vaccines and also a number of other peace and security issues in general.

Okay.  Hold on, Toby.  Let me go back to… let me go to the screen.

Mario, you had a question.

Question:  Yeah.  Hi.  Steph, there’s a report today talking about the selection of Miss Rebeca Grynspyn to lead the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  Can you confirm this, or do you have any information on when will this be announced, what the situation with the process has to do?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I can… I need to brush up on my UNCTAD nomination process details, which I will as soon as this briefing is over.

Okay.  Oscar and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, what measures can be taken by the UN when the right to protest and denouncing oppression is interpreted by Governments as acts of war, turning civilians and innocents into military targets in violations of human rights?

And in… another question is that in Colombia, is a statistic to talk about the numbers of human rights defenders, social and indigenous leaders being assassinated and forced disappearance.  What comment do you have on this or if there’s any reaction from the Secretary-General in this regard?

Spokesman:  No, I haven’t seen the report you mentioned in your second question.  All across the world, we call on Governments to respect people’s rights to assemble freely, to demonstrate peacefully.  And all across the world, we encourage Governments to ensure that their security forces allow people to express their fundamental rights.

Abdelhamid and then James.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions also.  My first question is about the UNRWA director in Gaza.  His name is Matthias Schmale.  His last name is spelled as S-c-h…

Spokesman:  I know who he… Abdelhamid, I know who he is.

Question:  Yeah.  He gave an interview on the 23rd to Israeli Channel 12 in which he said that Israel… he believes that there was huge sophistication in the way that Israeli military struck over the last 11 days, and he said they tried to avoid civilians.  And that has generated condemnation from many Palestinian groups and human rights.

How he could say that the Israeli were trying to avoid civilians when the family of… just one family of Abu Hatab, nine of them were killed, including seven children and two women, and another building lost 43 civilians, and he… UN staff goes on Israeli channel and says Israel was trying to avoid civilians and they were targeted with sophistication and precision.  Is that your views or UN views…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I have not seen the interview.  What I can tell you is that I know Matthias has stood side by side with the Palestine refugees that UNRWA serves for a long time, especially during the 11 days of the conflict.  He is a dedicated UN staff member.  He is a true humanitarian from what I know of him, and I would encourage people to read the whole interview.  But if you’re looking for clarifications, I would check with UNRWA.

Question:  I do need because the way you said it, I mean, it was like defending him statement, which is… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I’m defending him because I know him.  Okay.  Your second question?

Question:  Okay.  My second question is, today there are also news that two Chinese planes carrying weapons landed in United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the news also says that United Arab Emirates had never left Yemen.  There is an island that is the… UAE is active in that island.  Do you confirm… what do you have to tell us about the activities from UAE in Yemen?

Spokesman:  I have seen the press reports.  We have no tools or mandate to either confirm or deny these press reports.

Mr. Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thanks so much.  We’ve just had our first Security Council meeting in the chamber face to face, first time in a few months.  I’m just wondering, what’s the latest on COVID and mask guidance inside the building?  We’re now a few days on from Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s lifting of the mask mandate for folks who’ve been vaccinated more than two weeks ago.  Is it okay to walk up in the building unmasked now?

Spokesman:  Not at this point.  We’re, obviously, continuing our discussions with Member States on what they propose in the way forward.  We want to open as safely as possible.  We want to open quickly, and we want to support Member States as… in the very important multilateral activities that they do.  We were very happy to see people back in the chamber this morning.  As soon as I have an update, I will share that with you.

Question:  Thanks so much…

Spokesman:  Mr. Klein.  [cross talk]

Question:  Last time I asked that, you said you were following the guidelines that were handed down, and you were waiting for the state to make a decision, New York State.  And it did make a decision, but you haven’t followed it.  So, could you just say a little bit more about this process of taking place in terms of consultation with the Member States?  Is it, like, you reach out to every Mission and you say, hey, how do you guys feel about it?  And how do you pull together 193 countries just one agreement about when to follow the guidelines?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  How do you pull together 193 countries to agree on one thing?  That’s the 75-year-old question here at the UN, so… but in all seriousness, no, we had a… there was an informal meeting with the General Assembly and, obviously, the General Assembly represents the membership as a whole, so discussions are going on with the President of the General Assembly, as well.

As soon as we have something to report as a change, we will do so.  Obviously, we did not want to get out in front of New York State.  We’re also in discussions with New York City, and we will try to share with you updates as soon as possible.

Question:  And just… all right.  Just on that, because it does sound really interesting to me, is that going to come to something like a vote?  Because it will be really interesting to see a General Assembly board, with all the countries and which ones are in favour of de-masking and which ones aren’t, because it kind of says something about a country, a Government and how they feel about things.

Spokesman:  Very interesting observation, and I would encourage you to share that with our next guest, Mr. [Brenden] Varma, who speaks for the President of the General Assembly.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  What specific steps is the United Nations taking to ensure that any reconstruction materials that are going into Gaza do not end up in the hands of Hamas or other Palestinian terrorists to be used for rebuilding their rocket or other… arsenal or other weaponry?

Spokesman:  Look, for the aid that we bring in, we distribute it ourselves.

Okay.

Question:  Who… distribute it.  Who do you distribute it to?  It’s distributed… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  People… we are… I mean, our focus right now is on immediate humanitarian help, food, COV… basic supplies and vaccines.  Those are usually being done through the existing UNRWA facilities and as well as other UN agencies.

Célhia, and then we’ll go back.

Question:  [United States] Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken is today in the Middle East.  He met with Benjamin Netanyahu.  He’s going to meet with the Palestinian Authority and the civil society.  What are the hopes of restarting some sort of negotiation or talks to try to bring back the Quartet and the two-State solution, to make it more clear now that the new Administration is more open to that?

Spokesman:  Well, it’s… I think as the Secretary-General said, we were very much… we welcome the ceasefire.  We very much hope the parties will be… will use it as an opportunity to move forward, and we hope that the involvement of not only the United Nations, but others will push everybody in that same direction.

Please.

Question:  Thank you.  Going back to Gaza, apart from the emergency aid that you were talking about, yesterday there was a briefing by the Department of State.  And they say that their objective… one of the objectives of Secretary Blinken’s visit is to create a mechanism, a partnership between the UN and the Palestinian Authority in order to distribute the aid to rebuild Gaza, not just the emergency, and make sure they… do you have any information about how they…

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we expect the launch of our humanitarian appeal to be on Thursday.  Just for your planning, we expect a briefing by Lynn Hastings, our Humanitarian Coordinator, to be piped into here, I think, 9 a.m. on Thursday.

(I think somebody has a microphone open besides me, and that’s not good.  Thank you.)

And once the appeal is launched, we’ll have more detail on the mechanics, but we, obviously, very much welcome the United States’ backing of the UN’s humanitarian and longer-term efforts.

Question:  Steph, just to point out, I think you mentioned the foreign secretary for Dr. Jaishankar.  He’s the Foreign Minister.  [corrected above]

Spokesman:  Yes, I stand corrected.  Thank you.  I stand corrected on so many things, but I do on that.  Thank you very much.

Toby?

Question:  Just a follow-up to James Reinl’s question, do you have the number of swipes today?

Spokesman:  I have the number of swipes from yesterday, because I get them… it was about 1,400 yesterday, so it’s going a little bit up.

Okay.  Oh, I see Ali, Iftikhar, please.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Would you please elaborate what you mean by that the Secretary-General discussed with the Indian Foreign Minister other issues of peace and security?  Would you elaborate, please?

Spokesman:  Not really.  I think what I can tell you is that they discussed a number of issues related to peace and security, but I have no further details to share with you, Iftikhar.

Question:  Won’t you spell it out?

Spokesman:  I… you could try to pull at that string, but there’s really nothing to… nothing will come out, so I have nothing… if I have anything else to share with you later, I will.

And I think last question to… oh, Nabil, you have a question?

Question:  Yes, please.  Thank you.  So, Stéphane, we see that in Aqsa Mosque area in East Jerusalem, the incidents are back to be a daily scene now, clashes between Palestinian protests and worshippers and Israeli forces.  And a number of Palestinians have been detained as well, after the ceasefire.  What’s your message on that?  I have another question.

Spokesman:  Our message is that we’re, obviously, very concerned about these incidents.  We’re watching what’s going on, on the… around the Old City.  It’s very important that there be calm around holy sites and that people be free to worship in peace.

Question:  And on the UN re-opening or getting back to normal maybe in the UN, when you say you… the SG or the Secretariat is discussing this matter with the Member States, do you mean that the Secretariat is ready to function, and all your employees are here at work and not working remotely and come to the building as soon as the Member States decide that this is an option?  Or what do you mean by that?

Spokesman:  I think there are a couple of different things.  One is our primary function, in fact, of being a Secretariat, of supporting the Member States as they have multilateral meetings, whether it’s the General Assembly, ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), Security Council, so we will be there to do whatever they need.

Obviously, we’re also looking at different option of returning people to work in a way that is safe.  Okay… all right.

(Somebody has a microphone open that needs to be closed.)

Question:  Yeah, I… one last question on this, if I may.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  The Secretary-General never left the building, even during the first weeks of the pandemic.  He was working from his office in the building, which is not the case of many other… (The mic is still open.  I think it’s Iftikhar, if you can close your mic, Iftikhar.)

So, my question is, many UN entities are working from different cities, maybe different countries.  I don’t know.  Is there any message sent to them that they could be ready to come back to the office as soon as you decide that [inaudible]… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  The… okay.  From what I understand of your… of the question because there was some garbling, staff are required… I mean, are allowed to work from home.  (Sorry, if I could ask the technicians to close the open mic.)

Correspondent:  Iftikhar, I think.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Staff members are by rule now required to work from their duty station.  Obviously, there are some exemptions for personal family issues because it’s been difficult time for everyone.  So, the goal is to bring back staff in some capacity.

When exactly that will happen is still being worked on because, obviously, we have to make sure that the building is safe.  And, obviously, as you mentioned, the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General and some others have basically been working from the office, but that’s because they also require some people around them and some support, and we’ve done that in a very careful and safe way to ensure continuity of leadership here at the UN.

Okay.  Fazal, I think you have a question, and then we’ll close this off and give it over to Brenden.

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  You already covered my question.  My question was just follow-up on Mr. James that when will be able to come in person to cover the briefing and when you’ll be able to start regular briefing as you did before.

Spokesman:  Well, I’m doing some pretty regular briefings in person already.  [laughter].  But we’d hope to see more people here.

All right.  Thank you, all.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.