2 June 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Why don’t we start with the Secretary-General, since he’s my boss.

**Secretary-General — Clean Energy

This morning, the Secretary-General delivered remarks by video at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting, which is taking place today in Santiago, in Chile.

He stressed the crucial role of the energy sector in cutting global emissions by 25 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Secretary-General said that phasing out coal is the single most important step to get in line for the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.

Countries must shift fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy, he said, adding that net-zero emissions electricity systems must be the norm in advanced economies by 2035 and globally by 2040.

The Secretary-General said that every sector — including steel, cement, and shipping — must have an action plan to be net-zero by 2050.

He also pointed out that if the shipping sector were a country, it would be the world’s sixth largest greenhouse gas emitter.

That text was shared with you.

**Climate Change

And just a quick onward note on climate.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today published a scientific review showing that due to the impact of climate change, plant pests that ravage economically important crops are becoming more and more destructive.  They are also posing an increasing threat to food security and the environment.


Turning to Lebanon, and the issue of the Special Tribunal, I can tell you that the Secretary-General is aware of and deeply concerned by the financial difficulties faced by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

He has been actively engaged in efforts to secure additional funding for the Tribunal, making a direct appeal to Member States and the international community, as well as seeking emergency financial assistance from the General Assembly, which was provided earlier this year.

The Secretary-General continues to make an urgent appeal to Member States and the international community for voluntary contributions in order to secure the funds required to support the independent judicial proceedings that remain before the Tribunal.

He also notes that the continued financial support by the international community is critical to ensuring justice for the victims in Lebanon.


And just an update on the Safer tanker, which is off the coast of Yemen.

And I was asked offline about a statement made by Ansar Allah concerning our involvement in trying to secure the tanker.  And I can tell you that the statement is clearly disappointing.  It would seem to confirm that Ansar Allah is not ready to provide the assurances we need to deploy a UN mission to the Safer tanker.  That mission, as you know, has been, for years seeking to conduct an assessment and to do some possible light maintenance on that tanker.  And I’ll remind you that the tanker holds about 1.1 million barrels of oil.

The Houthis’ focus continues to be on the full maintenance of the vessel.  But we have explained many times that this cannot be undertaken without an impartial assessment in hand.  The tanker is a dangerous site, and we need to understand exactly what we’re dealing with before undertaking any major works.

We’ve had very intensive discussions on this with Ansar Allah over the last 10 days trying to bridge the gaps in objectives and understandings.  We’ve also seen direct engagement by Member States to try to unblock things, which has been helpful.  But we’re not there yet, which is very unfortunate.

The Security Council is expected to discuss the Safer tanker tomorrow, and we should have more information after that.

**Central African Republic

Moving on to Africa, where the Head of the Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, has now arrived in Bangui.  As we mentioned yesterday, he is part of a high-level delegation that includes the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), as well as the European Union.  They will be in the country for the next four days, as part of regular consultations between the four organizations and Central African authorities on the peace process.

Speaking to the press at the airport, the members of the mission reiterated their commitment to promoting inclusive dialogue and true reconciliation.

For his part, Mr. Lacroix emphasized the need of working together to achieve a lasting peace that will allow Central Africans to finally experience stability and security.

The delegation will have discussions with the President, Faustin Touadéra, the President of the National Assembly, Mathieu Sarandji, as well as representatives of political parties.  They will also meet with members of civil society, including women’s groups, and they are scheduled to end their visit with a press conference on 5 June.


Benno, whom I assume is on the screen somewhere, you had asked me about the Libya conference.  The Secretary-General will address the Berlin Conference on Libya on 23 [June] via videoconference, and his Special Envoy for Libya and also Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ján Kubiš, will participate in person.

The Conference will be an important opportunity to bring the international community together to take stock of the current situation in Libya and offer support to Libyans with regard to preparations for the conduct of national elections, which, as you know, are scheduled for 24 December of this year.  The withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from the country, as well as steps towards the reunification of key Libyan institutions, will be a focus of the conference.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

You will have seen that yesterday evening or in the afternoon, we issued a statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attacks by suspected members of the ADF, the Allied Democratic Forces, in the eastern part of the Congo.  The attacks targeted camps of internally displaced people [near] the towns of Boga in the province of Ituri, and in North Kivu.  Fifty-five civilians were killed in the attacks and many others were injured.

A quick-reaction force from the UN peacekeeping Mission (MONUSCO) has been deployed to the impacted areas.  Peacekeepers also assisted the wounded, including with medical evacuations.

We, of course reiterate [the United Nations], through the Special Representative in the DRC, will continue to support the Congolese Government and people in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country.


Moving on to Ethiopia:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the overall security situation in Tigray region remains highly complex.  While hostilities have largely ceased in boundary areas with Eritrea, from North-Western to Eastern Zones, since March, access to these areas is often denied.

Violence and attacks against civilians, including humanitarian workers, continue.  Last Friday, a humanitarian worker working with an NGO (non-governmental organization) was killed in crossfire, in an attack outside the government building in Adigrat Town in the Eastern Zone of Tigray.  Since the start of the conflict, nine aid workers have been killed in Tigray, all Ethiopian nationals.

Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that the levels of food insecurity and malnutrition remain alarming.  Health facilities continue to receive and treat survivors of gender-based violence throughout the region, with 1,288 official cases reported between February and April.

From 27 March to 31 May, UN agencies and our partners reached more than 2.8 million people out of the targeted 5.2 [million] with food assistance.  To date, about 430,000 people, which is only 15 per cent of the targeted 3 million people, have been reached with emergency shelter and non-food items.

We and our humanitarian partners are gradually scaling up the response but not yet keeping pace with the mounting needs.  This is due to a combination of access constraints, insufficient communications capacity, bureaucratic impediments, and, as always, lack of funding.  I understand Mr. [Mark] Lowcock will be briefing the Council in the next few days on Tigray.  […]

**West Africa

A quick note to let you know that following his appointment as the new Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mahamat Saleh Annadif has started his first official tour of the region.

Today, he is in Guinea-Bissau for a series of meetings.  Earlier this week, he was in Ghana, where he met President Nana Akufo-Addo.  They discussed several issues related to peace and security in the region, including the continuous threats of terrorism and maritime security, as well as ways to strengthen the partnership between the United Nations and Ghana.

In the coming days, he will also travel to the Gambia, Guinea, Cape Verde, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria.


Moving on to Afghanistan:  Heavy fighting and air strikes continue from last week, impacting nearly all districts in Laghman Province.  There are also reports, according to our humanitarian colleagues, that fighting is spreading into new areas in neighbouring Nuristan and Nangarhar provinces.

According to our colleagues, fighting and armed clashes have further forced more than 10,500 men, women, and children to flee their homes in different parts of Imam-Sahib district, in Kunduz Province.  Houses and agricultural lands have reportedly been severely damaged due to the use of artillery and air strikes.

Assessment teams from the UN and humanitarian partners are working to confirm the impact of the situation across the impacted provinces.  Responses have also begun in Laghman and Kunduz.

In 2021, almost 116,000 people have been displaced by conflict in Afghanistan, while close to 5 million people remain in protracted displacement since 2012.  We urge the parties to the conflict to better protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including, of course, schools and hospitals, which are sadly being targeted all too often.  This is in compliance with international humanitarian law.

Urgent funding is needed for Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $1.3 billion to help 15.7 million people.  Only $172 million has been received so far.


Turning to Myanmar, where schools have been reopening:  Our colleagues on the ground today warned that attacks on schools, and education facilities are continuing.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in Myanmar says that at least 54 attacks against schools and school personnel have been reported since the military takeover on 1 February.  And that is up to the end of May.  Most of these attacks have been taking place in May.  There have been about 141 incidents of the military using education facilities for their own purposes.

Our colleagues stress that violence in and around schools is never acceptable, with attacks on places of learning and education staff and the occupation of education facilities violations of children’s rights.

Also on Myanmar, our humanitarian colleagues in the country say they are alarmed by the increasing reports of internal displacement following intensified fighting in some parts of the country.

Some 188,000 people have been displaced in the north-east of the country, south-east and west, so far this year, but most of that since 1 February and the coup.

The humanitarian needs resulting for this surge in displacement compounds the needs of the 1 million people who were already in need of aid prior to the military takeover.

**Sri Lanka

From Sri Lanka, our UN team on the ground is supporting the Government as the country faces one of its worst environmental disasters after a cargo ship carrying chemicals caught fire off [its coast] on the 21st of last month.

Among the thousands of containers in the cargo ship were more than 80 containing dangerous materials, including 25 tons of nitric acid.

As part of the emergency preparedness and response efforts, the World Food Programme had worked with Sri Lanka’s environmental protection authority to set up an incident management team, with oil spill contingency planning and simulation exercises.

The UN team is ready to step up the efforts if requested by the authorities.

**World Employment and Social Outlook

A quick note on a report issued by the ILO, the International Labour Organization.  And it shows that the labour market crisis created by COVID is far from over.  The “World Employment and Social Outlook:  Trends 2021” shows that employment growth will be insufficient to make up for the losses suffered — that’s at least until 2023.

ILO projections indicate that global unemployment is expected to stand at 205 million people in 2022, greatly surpassing the 187 million [unemployed] in 2019.  This corresponds to an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent globally.  Excluding the COVID-19 crisis period, such a rate was last seen in 2013.

The fall in employment and hours worked has translated into a sharp drop in labour income and a corresponding rise in poverty.  Compared to 2019, an additional 108 million workers worldwide are now categorized as poor or extremely poor.

**UNICEF — Vaccines

UNICEF today announced it has signed a long-term agreement with Moderna to supply doses for the COVAX facility.

Through the agreement, UNICEF and its partners will have access to up to 34 million doses of the vaccine for some 92 countries and territories in 2021.

This is the fifth supply agreement UNICEF has signed for vaccines.  It previously announced agreements with the Serum Institute of India, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and the Human Vaccine, otherwise known as Sputnik V.

**Press Encounter Today

At 4:30 p.m. this afternoon, the Co-Chairs of the Friends of Women of the Sahel — that is the Permanent Representative of Niger, Ambassador Abdou Abarry; along with the Permanent Observer of the African Union, Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed; and the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the UN, Ambassador Olof Skoog — will brief you at the Security Council Stakeout.

That is following the Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on “Strengthening an integrated approach to peace and security in the Sahel through a gender lens”.  And that is to launch the Group of Friends of Women of the Sahel.

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  I’m going to have a little drink because I’ve spoken too much, and then we’ll go to Célhia and then Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Chad and Central African Republic have called on the United Nations to investigate an incident at a border post in which at least six Chadian soldiers were killed by Central African troops.  What will the UN do?  Because the situation is getting worse.

Spokesman:  No, of course.  We’ve seen the communiqué that’s come out of the meetings… the bilateral meetings between the CAR and Chad, calling for an independent and partial investigation.  That is good news, and it’s a good… it’s a positive development, which we hope will help de-escalate the tensions and, obviously, contribute to the amelioration of the bilateral relations between the two countries.

They called for the participation of the UN, the Economic Community of African States and the African Union.  At this point, we’re looking forward to discussing with them exactly what they have in mind and the other partners and how we can provide the best possible support for this.


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Couple of follow-ups.  On the Lebanon Tribunal, how much money did the Secretary-General’s effort that he launched quite a few months ago raise?  And what is the amount needed?  And has the Lebanon Government paid its 49 per cent share?

Spokesman:  So, what we secured from the General Assembly is, I think, [$15.5] million.  There is still an outstanding balance from the Government of Lebanon, and I will try to get you a bit more granularity on the figures.

We’re, obviously, continuing to talk with the international community.  I mean, the Tribunal faces, obviously, a very grave situation due to the financial shortfall.  What we want to see is Member States, international community, whichever formulation you want to use, contribute money as quickly as possible so the Tribunal can carry on its important work and bring justice to the victims.

Question:  And on the Safer tanker, what specific demands are the Houthis making, or are they just saying now’s not the time?

Spokesman:  Listen, I… we’ve had quite a long back-and-forth with them.  I mean, part of the issue is that they had wanted us to have a… to go in and do the full repairs right away, which, obviously, can’t be done.  We need to have some… we need to know what we’re dealing with.  I mean, we know broadly what we’re dealing with is a leaky tanker with 1.1 million barrels of oil, which if it broke or leaked would have a devastating impact on the region, on the country, on people who rely on the Red Sea for support.

What we would like to do is have an assessment mission to see what the situation is in the hull of the ship and in the mechanics and, obviously, do some light repairs to avoid a catastrophe, and then we can come back and figure out exactly what needs to be done to fix the problem entirely.

That’s what we want to do.  They’re asking for other things.  We’ve had issue with insurance certificates and other letters.  Those things, I’m sure, can be overcome at some point, but there still remains a gap.  We are committed to continuing discussions on this issue.

Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Abdullah Aldimassi from Alhurra.  Stéphane, next month, Bab al-Hawa, the last remaining border crossing between Turkey and Idlib, might close as Russia plans to veto the extension to UN.  And as you know, Stéphane, the US Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is visiting Turkey to discuss this issue.  My question is, how does the Secretary-General react on these dynamics?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I will leave the dynamics of the Security Council to Security Council members.  What we have said over and over again is that the… that border crossing, that cross-border crossing is critical to our humanitarian operations.  We very much hope that it will continue to operate.  And we, I think, made that very clear publicly over and over again.

So, the ultimate decision is in the hands of the Security Council, but I can tell you that, as I’ve said, we’ve underscored the importance in the hope that it will remain open publicly, and the Secretary-General, I think, has made his point privately to his critical interlocutors on this issue.

All right.  Let’s see.  Iftikhar, I think you have a question.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In your opening remarks, you report to the escalating violence in Afghanistan and the United Nations’ efforts to alleviate the situation, but is there any progress on the resumption of peace process that you know, especially the Istanbul conference?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Iftikhar.

Question:  Steph, I asked you about the escalating violence in Afghanistan as you mentioned in your opening remarks… can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  In your opening remarks, you referred to the escalating violence in Afghanistan and the UN efforts to alleviate the situation, but is there any progress on the resumption of peace process… I mean the Istanbul conference that was supposed to be held after Ramadan?

Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that we are continuing to engage with the relevant parties.  Jean Arnault, I think, as we had mentioned to you, was talking to permanent representatives in New York.  He’s increasing his engagement, and we expect him to travel to the region soon.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Benno?

Correspondent:  It was asked already.  I retract my question.

Spokesman:  You withdraw your question?  Excellent…  [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Oh, yeah.  Didn’t you hear me?  Sorry.  Yes, I retract my question because it was answered.  Sorry.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Perfect.  All right.  Then I will thank you and leave you in the hands of Mr. [Brenden] Varma.

Question:  I sent you a question in writing, Stéphane.  Can you answer it, please?

Spokesman:  Sorry.

Question:  Sorry.

Spokesman:  I don’t… can you read… can you tell me what the question is, now that I can hear you?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid?

Question:  The question, Stéphane, is about if you have a summary of the activities of Tor Wennesland, the Special Coordinator from Gaza.

Spokesman:  Yes.  Tor, as you know, had been in… was in Gaza to… a few days ago.  I know that he met with Israeli authorities today.  I know he met with Benny Gantz, the… Mr. Benny Gantz, the Defence Minister, to continue his discussions as he’s had with parties to ensure that the ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities and the calm stands and is solidified, and we will continue to engage with all relevant sides in order to push for a political way forward.

Okay.  Mr. Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.