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27 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.

**Secretary-General — Peacekeeping

Good afternoon, just keeping on that theme [the International Day of UN Peacekeepers], the Secretary-General laid a wreath at the Peacekeepers Memorial to honour the more than 4,000 women and men who have lost their lives since 1948, while serving under the UN flag.

Also, at a virtual ceremony, Mr. [António] Guterres awarded the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal to 129 military, [police and civilian] peacekeepers who lost their lives in 2020 and in the first months of 2021.

In his remarks, he said that the challenges and threats faced by peacekeepers are immense.  He noted that, despite COVID-19, across all our missions, peacekeepers have not only been adapting to continue to deliver their core tasks, but they are also assisting national and community efforts to fight the virus.

Speaking on this year’s theme, which is “The road to a lasting peace: leveraging the power of youth for peace and security”, the Secretary-General stressed that, in countries where our missions operate, peace cannot be achieved without active participation of young people.

He also presented the 2020 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award to 32-year-old Military Gender Adviser, Major Steplyne Nyaboga, who is from Kenya.  She served in the recently completed African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

**Vaccine Equity

Also this morning, the Secretary-General participated in an online event, co-hosted by the UN’s “Verified” initiative, bringing business leaders together to discuss how to step up global efforts to ensure vaccine equity and ramp up the fight against the virus.

The Secretary-General noted how science has delivered safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time, but there is a large and growing vaccine gap between rich and poor countries.  Just 10 countries have administered more than 75 per cent of all vaccine doses, he said.  Mr. Guterres added that this is not only unjust, but it is self-defeating and dangerous — to everyone.

He stressed that fast, equitable vaccination is the only way to prevent new and more dangerous variants from emerging and wreaking further havoc, in rich and poor countries alike.  COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time.  It can strike back.  The world must act with resolution and in solidarity to overcome the virus.

He also spotlighted the role of the private sector, which he said has been central to every breakthrough since the start of the pandemic: on vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, etc.  He commended the many companies that have acknowledged this, by putting people before profits.  Now is the time for the private sector to play [its full part] in ending this global catastrophe.  Those remarks were shared with you.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

I will skip updating you on Mali because I think you heard at length from the [Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix].

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), our humanitarian colleagues say they are closely monitoring the developments in Goma in North Kivu after last night’s decision by state authorities to evacuate 10 districts, as a precaution, following the eruption of the Nyiragongo Volcano.  Evacuations are reportedly under way, with tens of thousands of people leaving Goma.  This is happening against a backdrop of already high needs in North Kivu.  Forty-four per cent of all 5 million internally displaced people in the DRC are in North Kivu, and about a third of that population is also severely food insecure.

**Armenia/Azerbaijan

Just a note on the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, because we have been asked.  I can tell you that we have been following with concern the developments on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.  We urge all relevant actors to exercise restraint to avoid any actions that may escalate tensions further.  We understand that negotiations are ongoing.  All outstanding bilateral issues should be resolved peacefully, through dialogue and diplomatic means.

**Middle East

You will have heard from Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, who today briefed the Security Council on the recent hostilities between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel, adding that the cessation of hostilities is holding.

He highlighted the $95 million humanitarian flash appeal launched today, which you heard [about this morning] from [UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory] Lynn Hastings, and reiterated the Secretary-General’s appeal to the international community to work with the UN on developing an integrated, robust support package.

Mr. Wennesland told the Council that it is the lack of the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” — of a political horizon — after decades of conflict, that kills people’s hopes and provides space to those not interested in sustainable peace.  He said that only through negotiations that end the occupation and create a viable two-State solution can we hope to bring a definitive end to these senseless and costly cycles of violence.

Council members also heard from Philippe Lazzarini, the head of [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)], who recently spent a few days in Gaza, where more than 250 people were killed and thousands more injured.  He commended the work done by UNRWA staff in Gaza, who opened the schools they run there to the thousands of people who had been displaced by the escalation of violence.

**Ethiopia

An update, not a good one, from Ethiopia: The Humanitarian Coordinator there, Catherine Sozi, today condemned the arbitrary arrest, beatings and other forms of ill-treatment by soldiers of more than 200 people during the military raids of internal displacement settings in Tigray region, during the night of 24 May.  According to our colleagues, the affected Tsehaye and Adi Wonfito sites in Shire town are hosting a combined 12,000 internally displaced persons.

Ms. Sozi called for the immediate release of all those who have been arbitrarily arrested.  She also said that serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law must be promptly investigated, and the perpetrators brought to justice.  We, along with our partners, are ready to engage with military commanders to ensure the protection of civilians.

On the broader humanitarian situation in Tigray, access remains a challenge.  Most of the Central Zone, the most populated in the area, and that’s about 1.8 million people, remains largely inaccessible.  Where humanitarian workers have reached people, the situation is dire, including shortages of food, dysfunctional water system, lack of electricity and lack of health services.  Food insecurity is also alarming, with a high risk of mass severe acute malnutrition looming in the next few months if not addressed immediately.

Humanitarian partners are gradually scaling up their response.  Nearly half a million people were reached with food assistance last week, bringing the number of people reached since 27 March to more than 2.2 million people, out of the targeted 5.2 million people, so we still have quite a large gap.

We continue to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to scale up the humanitarian response to help all people in need.  More funding urgent funding is needed.

**COVID-19 — Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that Africa urgently needs at least 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the next six weeks to get second doses to all of the people who received a first dose, to meet the 8-12 week window between doses.

In addition, WHO said today that it needs another 200 million doses of any vaccine approved for emergency use by WHO, so that Africa can vaccinate 10 per cent of its population by September of this year.  This follows a call made by Director General Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] at the World Health Assembly earlier this week, for all Member States to support a massive vaccination campaign.

To date, 28 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Africa, which represents less than two doses administered per 100 people.

**COVAX

Several countries in Latin American and the Caribbean received shipments of COVAX vaccines this week.  In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where our team is supporting authorities following the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano, the country received more than 21,000 doses.  In other parts of the Caribbean, 21,000 doses of vaccines arrived in Grenada.  Meanwhile, in El Salvador, they have received 96,000 doses.  Argentina received two shipments of COVAX-backed vaccines, totalling more than 860,000 doses.  Bolivia received [its] third shipment [of] more than 100,000 doses.

Latin America and the Caribbean have now received nearly 14 million COVAX-backed doses to date.  We, along with our partners, are working to help countries with their national vaccination campaign.

**Environment Report

Our friends at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi have a new report out today, released jointly with the World Economic Forum and other partners.  It says a total investment in nature of $8.1 trillion is needed between now and 2050 to successfully tackle the interlinked climate change, biodiversity, and land degradation [crises].

The report, entitled State of Finance for Nature, also calls for annual investment to reach $536 billion annually by 2050.  The report urges Governments, financial institutions and businesses to overcome this investment gap by placing nature at the heart of economic decision-making in the future.

**Press Briefings

Lastly, tomorrow, I will not be in this room.  Mr. [Farhan] Haq will be briefing from his undisclosed location.  However, at 9 a.m., in this very room, Dmitry Polyanskiy, the First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation [to the United Nations], will be here to talk to you.

**Somalia

Let’s see what the postman has brought in — a statement on Somalia.

The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement reached by the Federal Government of Somalia and Federal Member States leaders on the implementation of the 17 September Electoral Model as an outcome of the summit convened by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.  He urges all stakeholders to swiftly implement the agreement, as a critical step towards the holding of a consensual and transparent electoral process without further delays.

The Secretary-General reiterates the importance of dialogue and consensus to resolve any issues that may arise during implementation, and calls for the swift establishment of credible election management bodies at the federal and state levels to conduct the process.

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support the people and Government of Somalia in the implementation of the 17 September Electoral Model and the holding of a timely electoral process.

**Questions and Answers

I think that’s it.  It is now your turn.  Edie, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I have two questions.  First, on the conflict in Gaza, the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said today that the Israeli actions in Gaza may constitute war crimes, and she called on Israel to allow an independent investigation.  Does the Secretary-General support those views?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has nothing to add to what Ms. Bachelet says, which is within her mandate.

Question:  Secondly, on Mali, there’s been an announcement that the Prime Minister and the President have been released and that the 2020 coup leader has resumed control of the country.  The whereabouts of the President and the Prime Minister are apparently still not known.  What would the Secretary-General like to see now, especially in light of the coup leader resuming control of Mali?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we very much welcome the release of the civilian leaders, but we very much remain concerned at the overall situation in the country and especially the political vacuum that has been created by the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister.  I think what is important and what our colleagues on the ground stress is to see a resumption of the implementation of the transition road map, a restoration of the civilian-led transition, which enjoys the support of the people of Mali.  We continue to work on the ground with ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States].  Our Special Representative, Mr. [El-Ghassim] Wane, joined the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, who was there for ECOWAS, for a series of meetings over the last couple of days, and we will continue to work very closely with them.  Okay.  Majeed, I think you had a question?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Thank you very much.  My question is on the situation in Iraq.  In the past 24 hours, Iran-backed militias stormed the Green Zone, which is where it’s housing the Prime Minister’s office, Government offices, and the President’s office.  Green Zone is the heart of power… political power in Iraq, and these militias almost took it over and attacked it, and they are still threatening it.  Any reaction to this?  And also, any reaction for the adoption of the resolution on UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq]?  Thank you.  This morning.

Spokesman:  I mean, we always welcome resolutions by the Security Council, so the resolution on Iraq was adopted.  It places a few requirements on the Secretariat, notably to report back on the issue of support to the elections, and we will, of course, do that.  I think those latest reports from Baghdad are concerning, to say the least, and we would want to see calm restored in order for the Government to be able to operate freely and without any threat.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I did need to… I need to just announce to you that Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jença from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) arrived in Haiti yesterday to review the progress of the UN team in Haiti, including how the UN office (BINUH) is contributing to the situation in Haiti and also to hold talks with the authorities and civil society.  James Reinl?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I’ve got two questions, one continuing what you were just talking about on Iraq and then a second one about COVID.  First, on Iraq, yeah, so, the mandate has been expanded — of the Mission — to include election monitoring, and there isn’t a whole lot of time until October.  So, I’m wondering if you guys, at this stage, have got an idea of by how many additional staff, different… you know, more UN feet on the ground you’re going to have in the country by the time the election takes place.

Spokesman:  The resolution does outline added responsibilities for the Mission, including on the issue of elections.  We will, of course, abide by the resolution.  And as I mentioned to Majeed, now that we have the exact texts, we’ll report back to the Security Council on how it will be implemented, I think, within the next 30 days, as required.  And we will… and, of course, we had done… there’s always… there’s some preliminary planning and… done.  So, they’re already… we already have some ideas of what that added level of work and participation will look like.

Question:  Thanks so much.  And I’ll just do the one on coronavirus, as well.  US President Joe Biden has launched… has requested another investigation into the origins of the disease and exploring this theory of the laboratory in Wuhan, China, as being the source of the virus.  The UN World Health Organization study already concluded that it most likely resulted from animal-to-human transmission.  So, my question is, in the UN’s view, is it a fair and reasonable question to ask about this lab leak theory?

Spokesman:  There is an ongoing process with the World Health Organization, which has not yet concluded.  I know our colleagues in Geneva at WHO are reviewing the recommendations from the virus origin studies report at the technical level.  The technical teams will prepare a proposal for the next studies that will need to be carried out and will present them to the Director-General for his consideration.  He’ll then work with Member States on next steps.  I think, as Tedros has said, further studies will be needed in a range of areas, including on the early detection of cases and clusters and the potential roles of animal markets, transmission via the food chain and the laboratory incident hypothesis.  But there is… WHO will do what it can, but it, obviously, will always need the cooperation of Member States.  Okay.  Let’s see if there are any more questions.  Otherwise, we will hand it over to our good friend Brenden [Varma].  Maggie, and then we’ll go to Brenden.

Question:  Steph?

Spokesman:  Maggie.

Question:  Hi.  Sorry.  I couldn’t get unmuted.  Question, do you… does the Secretary-General have any comment on that Shell Oil case yesterday out of The Hague on the… reducing their carbon by 45 per cent?  It was a big landmark case.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, listen, we’ve seen the case, and I don’t want to get into commenting on court cases, but there have been other developments, whether in courts, whether in boardrooms, recently.  And I think what we’re seeing are more and more signs that the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy is gathering pace, because it’s what science demands.  I mean, it’s what every report that this Organization has put out and others and other scientists have put out, but it’s also what will drive forward our quest for better jobs, stronger economies, a healthier planet, healthier people and to save us from this abyss that the Secretary-General and others have talked [about] if we stand by and do nothing.

Okay.  I will leave it at that.  Mr. Varma, I see you on the screen.  Speak, so we can hear you.

 

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For information media. Not an official record.