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4 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.

Good afternoon.

**COVID-19 — Africa

I will start with a COVID update in various parts of the world.  Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) said that as the risk of a surge in COVID-19 cases increases in Africa, countries on the continent must urgently boost critical care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed.

WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, warned that the threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising.  He added that WHO’s priority is to swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans who are at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19.

More information online.

**COVID-19 — Uganda

In that vein, I want to give you an update on what we are doing in Uganda, where the weekly COVID-19 caseload jumped from nearly 120 cases in March to almost 3,700 by the end of last week, illustrating that risk that we were talking about.  As you can imagine, the emergence of several variants is complicating an already delicate situation.

Today, the national authorities, backed by the World Health Organization, launched a COVID-19 resurgence plan.  The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Rosa Malango, attended the launch and is ramping up joint efforts to support the most vulnerable in Uganda.

And on Monday, the Resident Coordinator will host an emergency joint round table with Ugandan authorities and the private sector.  The aim is to mobilize support for emergency needs, as well as national efforts to produce testing kits and vaccines.  Some of the most urgent needs include oxygen supplies and facilities; mobile health centres; digital platforms for accountability; enhanced community risk communications and support for vaccination and testing.

**COVAX — South America

And I also have a few updates on COVAX shipments to South America.

Last night, Paraguay received a third batch of more than 130,000 vaccines doses.  Local authorities said that the continuous roll-out of vaccines guarantees the continuity of the national vaccination plan.

Also, yesterday, Colombia received more than 900,000 doses of COVAX-backed vaccines, which will be delivered to priority groups receiving their second doses.  So far, Colombia has received more than 3.2 million vaccines through the COVAX facility, about 20 per cent of its total number of secured vaccines.

As of today, more than 80 million COVAX-backed vaccines have been delivered to 129 countries and territories.

**Vaccinations

And as I mentioned to you yesterday, I think that in answering Edith’s question, we do very much welcome the announcement made yesterday by the [Joseph] Biden Administration that it will be sharing millions of vaccine doses with both the COVAX facility, as well as bilaterally with countries in particular need.

But I also want to add that the Secretary-General is extremely grateful to the United States Government for the inclusion of United Nations personnel and Member States delegates serving in the United States in its national vaccination programme, and for the generous offer to provide vaccines for United Nations front-line personnel serving in the most challenging and dangerous locations around the world.  This donation will allow the UN staff to stay and deliver critical services to vulnerable people around the world in a safe and effective manner.

The Secretary-General renews his call to the international community to come together to address the unprecedented challenge of this pandemic, and for countries to share vaccines, particularly with those that are struggling to cope with new surges and variants.  There is an urgent need for increased global solidarity to ensure that vaccines are available to everyone, everywhere.

Equitable access to vaccines is a prerequisite for [ending] the pandemic and kick-starting a strong recovery.

**Central African Republic

And in the Central African Republic, the joint delegation we have been talking to you about, composed of the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the European Union is about to wrap up its visit to the country.  As we mentioned earlier this week, this visit is part of their regular dialogue with national authorities on the peace process.

During the trip, the head of our peacekeeping department, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, together with senior officials from the three other organizations, was received by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.  He assured the delegation of his Government’s ambition to strengthen and re-energize cooperation with its partners, including the UN peacekeeping Mission (MINUSCA).

The joint delegation also held meetings with members of the Parliament, members of the ruling party and the opposition, civil society, religious leaders, women and youth representatives.  Among the issues discussed were the security situation, the peace process, including the political agreement, the political situation, as well as a negative campaign targeting some Central African partners, including the UN Mission in the country.

The members of the delegation are scheduled to hold a press conference a bit later today in Bangui.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And south of there, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I just want to share with you an update on the eruption of the volcano, in Nyiragongo.  Yesterday, David McLachlan-Karr, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, went to the Sake health area, which hosts more than 62,800 displaced people [from] the city of Goma.

He led a delegation that included the German Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who represented the donor community, the International Non-Governmental Organization forum, and UN agencies.

They met with local authorities and humanitarian partners and visited displaced people in three assembly sites.

$3.5 million from the DRC Humanitarian Fund were allocated to address urgent needs.  This comes on top of the $1.2 million in Central Emergency Response Funding announced by [the Emergency Relief Coordinator] Mark Lowcock last week.

And we, along with our partners, are aiming to support the Government’s response to people impacted by the eruption, and that requires $15.6 million, of which $5.2 million has been received to date.  The strategy aims to help both people who have been displaced and those returning to Goma, as well as those who remained and were impacted.

And we also have a short update on the attacks earlier this week in the country’s East.  Today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that about 5,800 men, women and children have fled multiple displacement sites in Ituri.

UNHCR teams are currently on the ground assessing the needs of forcibly displaced people and the host community.

**Mozambique

The UN Refugee Agency today said that it continues to receive concerning reports of systematic forced return of Mozambican families from [the United Republic of] Tanzania.  UNHCR urges neighbouring countries to Mozambique to respect access to asylum for those fleeing widespread violence and armed conflict in northern Mozambique.

According to the Mozambican border authorities, in May 2021, almost 3,800 Mozambicans were forcibly returned from Tanzania through the Negomano border point.  Most of those forcibly returned families are spontaneously travelling to other districts in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa, as Mueda is perceived to be unsafe.

**Myanmar

Moving on to Asia:  From Myanmar, our colleagues in the UN Country Team in Myanmar today reiterated their call for protecting of health-care workers and facilities.  They warned of the impacts of attacks on public health, which includes the COVID-19 response, in the past four months since the military seized control of the Government.

To date, there have been at least 212 reported attacks on patients, health workers, ambulances and health-care facilities, resulting in at least 14 deaths and 51 injuries.  This amounts to about half of the total attacks on health care reported globally [this] year.

Our colleagues on the ground stress that hospitals are, and must remain, a place of sanctuary and unequivocal neutrality so that patients can seek care and health professionals can provide care safely and without fear.

**Yemen

Inger Andersen, our head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), warned the Security Council members in a briefing yesterday afternoon of the consequences of any leakage of oil from the Safer oil tanker, which you all know is anchored off the coast of Yemen.  She said that millions of people could be exposed to harmful pollution if an explosion were to occur onboard, with severe health impacts for vulnerable populations.  Additionally, an oil spill would have negative impact on the lives of people already going through the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, she stressed.

For her part, Reena Ghelani, speaking on behalf of Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN humanitarian department (OCHA), said that the bottom line is that, so far, no UN mission has been allowed to deploy to the vessel.  She said that’s mostly because the Ansar Allah authorities, while always agreeing to a mission in principle, have been reluctant to provide the concrete assurances needed to proceed, adding that because the UN has never been allowed to visit the site, we do not know exactly what the conditions are like onboard.  That means it’s impossible to say in advance exactly what activities can be performed.

**World Environment Day

A couple of Days to flag.  Tomorrow is World Environment Day, and this year, the Day will also mark the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a 10-year global push to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation.

In his message, the Secretary-General stresses that we are rapidly reaching the point of no return for the planet.  He says that the degradation of the natural world is already undermining the well-being of 3.2 billion people — or 40 per cent of all of us.

The Secretary-General notes that luckily the Earth is resilient, and we still have time to reverse the damage we have done.  He highlights that the UN Decade is a global call to action, which will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.

And as part of the celebrations, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UNEP released a joint report on Global Assessment of Soil Pollution.  The report warns that widespread environmental degradation caused by soil pollution, due to the growing demands of agri-food and industrial systems and an increasing global population, is getting worse and is one of the world’s major challenges for ecosystem restoration.  The full report is online.

**International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

And today is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.  The purpose of the Day is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.

**International Day for Fight Against Illegal, Unreported
  and Unregulated Fishing

Tomorrow is also the International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.  According to the FAO, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities represent up to 26 million tons of fish caught annually.

And finally, on Sunday is Russian Language Day.  I guess that it gives us time to learn.

**President of General Assembly — Stakeout

And on Monday, there will be a stakeout outside the General Assembly Hall, but I think that Brenden [Varma] will have more details for you on that.

**Financial Contribution

And let’s end on a positive note.  We say thank you to our friends in Ankara, as Turkey has paid its budget dues in full.  This takes us up to 104.

**Chad (read later in the briefing)

We are launching today our 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan for Chad.  Some 5.5 million people — that’s nearly one third of the country’s population — need humanitarian assistance this year.

Humanitarian organizations are seeking $617 million to assist 4 million people among them.  Chad continues to be impacted by chronic underfunding while the population requiring humanitarian assistance has increased.

So far, only 8 per cent of the required funds have been secured.  Needs are being driven up by three concurrent crises:  malnutrition and food insecurity, health emergency and a displacement crisis driven by an armed conflict and natural disasters.

Humanitarian access is limited in certain areas of the Lac province close to the Lake Chad Basin and on the border with the Central African Republic due to conflict-related insecurity.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, with more funding, can immediately help to save lives and dignity of impacted people in Chad, including reducing their vulnerability and strengthening their resilience to respond to the recurrent shocks.

Last year 2.2 million people were assisted by humanitarian organizations in Chad.

**Questions and Answers

Ms. Lederer?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  First, a couple of follow-ups on the announcement that the Biden Administration’s going to be giving vaccines to front-line UN staff.  Are there any numbers, any more granularity to go with…?

Spokesman:  No.  We’re in touch with the US Mission to work out those details, including the numbers.  My understanding is that this will be a Johnson & Johnson one-and-done, as they say.  But we’re trying to get a bit more details, but we’re very thankful of this offer.

Question:  And to go with this, can you update us on the vaccination of UN peacekeepers?  We know that there was a free offer of vaccines to the UN from China, I believe?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there have been a number of offers, notably from China and the Russian Federation, more global offers.  The Indian, if you’ll… the Indian Government, if you’ll remember, had offered us, I think, 200,000 doses, and I think that is also being worked out.  And a number of peacekeepers are already, as far as I know, being vaccinated, but I’ll try to get you a bit more detail.

Question:  And just two other follow-up questions.  Is there any date for when Martin Griffiths is going to actually assume his new post as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs?

Spokesman:  No.  There is no exact date because… I mean, everything has a bit of a knock-on effect, right?  We’re also looking at the transition plan for Martin to cover his current file, Yemen.  Mr. Griffiths, as you know, remains extremely engaged.  I mean, he’s been to… he was in Yemen.  He was in Riyadh not long ago, as well.  So, we’re looking at that transition.

My understanding is that Mr. Lowcock will leave office before the end of June.  The transition plan will be… we’ll be able to announce who will be officer-in-charge or acting, but we just don’t… we want to make sure there are no gaps anywhere.

And just before… if you’ll allow me, because I forgot to read an important note for the people of Chad.  [see above]

Sorry, Célhia?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Late May, the State Department suspended assistance to Malian security and defence forces.  It is now the turn of the French ministry of the army to handle the suspension of joint military operation with Malian forces.  Could this operation have a negative impact on the security in Mali and, of course, on the Mission?

Spokesman:  Look, obviously, we’ve seen the decision taken by France to temporarily suspend the joint operations they run with the Malian armed forces.  We have two separate forces.  We are two separate mandates.  We have the Barkhane operation, the anti… counter-terrorism and then our MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) mandate.  I mean, they’re sort of complementary, but they have very distinct mandates.

We will continue with our operations that will focus on the protection of civilians and supporting the implementation of the peace process.

As far as I’ve been told, there is no immediate impact on the operational work of the UN Mission as a result of the decision taken by the French military and the US previous to that.  [cross talk]

Yes, Majeed?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Any update on the discussions that you mentioned between Iran and United Nations regarding their suspension of their voting since yesterday?

Spokesman:  No, no…  I mean, the discussions that I said…  I just wanted to stress that discussions are ongoing, and that this was… the letter was sent out because it… there was a threshold that had been reached, but there… it’s not lack… from lack of willingness of the Iranians to pay and our… and no lack of willingness for us to engage with them in finding a solution to this issue.

Question:  Just to be clear, the problem is the issue of wire transfers because of the US sanctions.  What are the technical problem?  Can you explain?

Spokesman:  I don’t really want to get into the technical aspects of it, but I think, as we all know, Iran is a subject of bilateral sanctions, which impacts the…  I mean, it’s clear, impacts the ability for banking, and our… the UN’s accounts are in the United States, in New York, and so we have to find a way around the problem, and I have no doubt that we will.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up.  Other than General Assembly, after sending the letter, can Secretary-General restore their voting rights?  Is…

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, it’s not the Secretary… it’s not the Secretary-General.  I don’t want to give the Secretary-General more authority than he has.  And, as you know from the Charter, the Secretary-General does not have much authority.  This is a Member State-run organization.  I’m speaking under the watchful eye of Brenden.  [laughter]

But obviously, we have seen it in the past.  I mean, if you’ll recall, I think, last year or two years ago, there was…  we issued a letter concerning Lebanon.  And very quickly after that, they paid, an amount that enabled their voting rights to be restored.

Okay.  Let’s go to Tobias.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just a follow-up on… one follow-up and one question.  Follow-up on Yemen.  The US envoy said he worked closely and coordinated closely with Martin Griffiths, and the US envoy to Yemen put it as the… I think the… said the Ansar Allah, the Houthis, were refusing to engage, but how is the UN trying to elicit engagement?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, Mr. Griffiths was in Sana’a and met with the leader of Ansar Allah just a few days ago.  We’ve been engaged.  I mean, I’m not… we work closely with the US envoy and others.  I think everybody is working towards the same goal, right — ensuring that the bombs and the rockets and the violence stop so the people of Yemen can come back to some semblance of normality, given already their tragic situation.

I can only speak for the UN side.  We spoke…  Mr. Griffiths spoke with Mr. [Abdel Malik] al-Houthi, with the head of Ansar Allah.  He gave a press conference in Sana’a before leaving.  His assessment of that meeting, I think, is clear, and you can read his own words.

Question:  And my question is on this pretty substantial scoop, I think it was… it came out yesterday concerning the IMO, the International Maritime Organization in London.  And my question specifically is… because I… obviously, it’s not my journalism, but the… how normal is it for members of the… of industry to speak on behalf of national delegations in these… in these meetings?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  The IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations with its own governing body completely separate from the Secretary-General.  It’s an organization over which he has no authority.  It’s part of that… our extended and sometimes complicated UN family, which includes a lot of acronyms and organizations with different mandates.  Some organizations, through their statute, give a voice to industry or other partners and… so, how the IMO works is a question for you to [ask] to the IMO.

I think the Secretary-General has been very clear on his call for all of us to move towards a zero-emission world.  That cannot be done without, obviously, the active support of governments but of industries, right, which includes steel industry, the cement industry, shipping and aviation.  Everybody has a role to play.  That means effectively cutting emissions and having goals by 2025 and 2030.

So, we all want to work towards that same goal, and the shipping industry is a critical part of that goal, and we would want them to move in the right direction, as others have.

Question:  And does the SG plan on speaking to anybody in the IMO to amend their behaviours at all?

Spokesman:  No, it’s not for the SG to speak to the IMO.  He has no authority over the IMO.  The IMO has its particular methods of working, but we want to see the shipping industry, like other industries, move in the right direction.  We very much hope that they will.

Okay.  I’ll…  you’ll allow me to go to some of your colleagues?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Thank you.  You’re too kind.  Maggie and then James Reinl, please.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Two follow-ups, one on Iran and their GA vote.  Can you tell us when exactly they’re losing or lost their vote, as of like… as of when?  Whoops.

And the second question is on the vaccine offers.  You have had the ones you mentioned from China and Russia previously.  Russia also offered to vaccinate all UN staff.  So, why didn’t you take them up on it, or did you partially take them up on it?  Could you give us numbers?  I mean, maybe you don’t have them handy, but could you get us numbers on how many doses, perhaps, you’ve accepted from other countries aside from the United States?  That would be helpful.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  So, on the Indian vaccines, those, which I think were…  if I’m not mistaken — and Eri [Kaneko] will send me a message if I’m wrong — is AstraZeneca, those were 200,000.  They’re already being put to use.  We continue to be in touch with the Chinese authorities, as we are with the Russian authorities.  Some of that had to do with which vaccines were already approved by the WHO because we do not use vaccines that are not approved by the WHO.

But I think we have expressed, and the Secretary-General has directly expressed his gratitude towards the Russian Federation when he was in Moscow recently, and also, he has thanked the Chinese for their offer, as well.

I mean, we’re very fortunate that we have Member States who are willing and able to give vaccines to UN staff working in the front lines to ensure that we continue to do our work.

And I think it’s also important to note that, even before the vaccines were available to some of our colleagues in the field, they had been continuing to do their work.  I mean, peacekeeping missions, peacekeepers, have continued to do absolutely great work in the front lines, in Mali, Central African Republic, DRC, wherever you want to talk about, without vaccines.  So, this will be a high level of assurances and comfort for those… for the peacekeeping staff and for the humanitarian staff.

Question:  So, Steph, WHO approved Sinopharm earlier this week for emergency use.  So, does that mean that you can now accept China’s offer?  Because they had also offered some peacekeepers several hundred thousand doses.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I know, and that’s why I’m saying we’re in discussion now with the Chinese on that.

Question:  Can you answer the Iran follow-up on when exactly they lose or lost their voting right?

Spokesman:  I’m looking for Brenden.  I think it’s as of now.  I mean, the letter…  I think if you read… look at the wording of the letter is that they have… the voting rights have now… have been lost.

Okay.  Let’s go to James Reinl and then Sherwin.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I’ll do one question on Syria and then, afterwards, one on Yemen.  On Syria, the US Ambassador is over in Turkey right now, doing a big hard push on keeping these border crossings open.  We’ve heard from the Secretariat.  You guys say that Bab al-Hawa crossing should remain open, that it’s necessary.  Does the Secretariat also agree with the US position that two of the other border posts should be re-opened?

Spokesman:  Look, I… we’re in a very delicate… let’s be honest, James.  We’re always honest, but let’s be honest.  We’re in a very delicate phase of the discussions within the Security Council concerning the renewal of the mandate.  Our position is clear, that there is a critical importance for cross-border delivery of humanitarian goods from Turkey into Syria.  We would like to see that continue.  If it does not continue, it will have a severe impact, and that is our position, and I will leave it at that.

Question:  Thanks.  And if I can do one on Yemen, you gave us a readout about the Safer tanker briefing.  During the meeting yesterday, the OCHA representative, Miss Ghelani, said the money for the Mission was running out.  So, I’ve got a question about the money.  Earlier this year, a while back, you told us that the UN had spent something like 3.35 million on the Mission.  Are there any update numbers you can give us on the money, how much is left in the kitty, when it’s going to run out?

Spokesman:  Let me check on that because I don’t recall using that specific number, but I will check for you on that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sherwin and then Michelle.

Question:  Good afternoon, Steph.  Just wondering why you didn’t say or mention anything about the South African peacekeeper that was killed in the DRC yesterday morning.  Is there a reason for that omission?

Spokesman:  No reason.  I have not received any information about it.  I will check again with our peacekeeping colleagues, but I was not given anything on that.

Correspondent:  Then I won’t go to my three follow-ups.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  You’re getting lazy, Sherwin.  [laughter]

Michelle?

Question:  Hey, Steph.  Thanks.  Just some more follow-ups on Iran.  Sorry to harp on this.  As I understand it, they lost their voting rights in January.  The Secretary-General wrote to… said they were in arrears in January, and they lost their voting rights then.  So, can we clarify that?

Spokesman:  I would…  what I was trying to say, in my own clumsy way, is just read the letter, and the information is in the letter.

Question:  Yeah, yeah, but in January, they lost their voting rights, right?

Spokesman:  Let…  just stick to the letter.  If there’s more questions, let me…  I will check for you.

Question:  But there was another letter in January that said they were in arrears.  So, presumably, that’s when they lost their voting right.

Spokesman:  Let me check for you on that, Michelle.  [He later clarified that Iran lost its voting rights in January.]

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  And also, the Iranian Foreign Ministry yesterday said that they’d been in talks with the UN to try and make this payment, as you’ve said.  So, presumably, you’ve been in talks with them since January on how to access this money in South Korea?

The Foreign Ministry said that the UN was going to follow up on getting an OFAC license from the US to allow for the transfer.  They said that this permit’s being issued.  So, who was… who exactly was the OFAC license issued to?  Was it the UN?  Was it the UN bank?  If you could clarify that, that would be great.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I will try to give you as much clarity as I can, but I don’t think we’ll go into so much of the mechanics, details, but what I can just say is that, again, we are, I think, working very hard to try to resolve this with both the Iranians and the US… the relevant US authorities.  Okay.  [cross talk]

Question:  So, they also said that the payment was going to be made soon.  Is that accurate?

Spokesman:  As soon as the payment is made, we will be able to confirm it, but as I…  since we’ve been working on this for quite a while, I don’t want to give you a date of when it will happen in case it does not happen.  All I can say is that we’re working towards getting this resolved as soon as possible.

Okay.  I don’t see any other questions except for Célhia here in the room.  Go ahead.

Question:  Jean-Pierre Lacroix is in the DRC…  in the Central African Republic right now.  Could you tell us where else he’s going?  Because I heard that he… he’s going… undergoing a long trip…

Spokesman:  I will find out for you.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  He has not shared his travel plans with me, but we will find out.  Excellent.  Mr. Varma.  Oh, sorry.  Sylviane, is that you?  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  My question is on the Tribunal, Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).  The caretaker [Prime Minister], Hassan Diab, asked the UN Secretary-General in a letter on… today to urgently explore ways of financing the STL in light of funding difficulties.  Do you have any reaction on that letter?

Spokesman:  I mean, this is what we’ve been doing, right?  We…  [cross talk]

Question:  It’s today.

Spokesman:  I know.  I’m aware of the letter.  I’m aware of the letter, but this is what we have been doing, which is working with the General Assembly, which, I think, released some $15.5 million, something the Secretary-General’s been pushing.  And he’s continued… him and his staff have been continuing the contacts in trying to get the financing from Member States so the Tribunal can continue its work.

Question:  Because there is a deadline.  After July, the funding shortage if not resolved, it’s going to have a big problem.

Spokesman:  Fully aware of the deadline, which, hopefully, will focus Member States’ willingness to finance it.  And the deadline also will mean that there will be less accountability and that justice will not have been fully served.

Thank you.  Brenden, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.