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16 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General — Press Stakeout

I want to confirm that the Secretary-General will speak to the press following the plenary meeting of the General Assembly on the appointment of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which will take place on Friday.

We expect the Secretary-General to speak to reporters at the area immediately outside the General Assembly Hall (also known as the East Foyer), and that should happen at around 10:40 on Friday morning.

That press stakeout will take the place of the Friday noon briefing.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

We’ll lead off with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The head of the peacekeeping mission there (MONUSCO), Bintou Keita, condemned the proliferation of messages inciting hatred, violence and hostility between communities in several provinces of the country.

She called on community and political leaders to refrain from using discriminatory and provocative language on the basis of ethnic affiliations, which could lead to further divisions and, ultimately, to violence.

This resurgence in hate speech comes at a time when the Democratic Republic of the Congo is experiencing an important mobilization of its defence and security forces to restore peace and security in the east.  This, Ms. Keita said, requires a national cohesion effort.

The Mission reaffirmed its determination to support Congolese authorities, and also encouraged the parliament to adopt a bill against tribalism, racism and xenophobia, which is currently under consideration in the National Assembly.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our UN team there said today that they remain deeply concerned about increasing numbers of people being displaced by clashes in Kayah State, in the country’s east.

In south-eastern Myanmar, our colleagues tell us that more than 160,000 people have been internally displaced since the military takeover of the Government on 1 February.  This includes more than 100,000 people who have fled their homes in Kayah State following fighting between the Myanmar military and the Karenni People’s Defence Force.

Nearly 20,000 people are living in displacement sites in Chin State in western Myanmar following the start of clashes last month.  Thousands more people have been displaced across Kachin and Shan States as well.

**Sri Lanka

From Sri Lanka, the Resident Coordinator, Hanaa Singer, today facilitated the rapid deployment of three environmental experts and others to assist with hazardous and noxious substances, marine litter, and environmental impact assessment work related to the wreck of the MV X-Press Pearl cargo ship off the Sri Lankan coast last month.  That was done together with the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Regional Director and with the support of the European Union.

That wreck has resulted in what is reportedly one of the country’s potentially worst environmental disasters.

Continued UN assistance also includes the provision of specialized protective equipment, technical assistance for incidence management, contingency planning and simulations, and coordination support.

**Ukraine

Turning to eastern Ukraine, where seven years of active fighting have had profound effects on more than 5 million people in Donetsk and Luhansk.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that civilian casualties increased in the first months of 2021, mainly due to mines and explosive remnants of war.  Between 1 February and 30 April, 12 civilians were killed and 25 injured.

Hostilities in April almost reached levels witnessed before the July 2020 ceasefire.

Civilian infrastructure, including educational, water and sanitation facilities, and powerlines close to the “contact line” also continued to be targeted.

According to our humanitarian colleagues, over the last weeks, the delivery of humanitarian aid and access to non-Government-controlled areas has improved but remains limited and highly politicized.  On 10 June, four UN agencies were granted permission to operate, in order to implement humanitarian projects in the non-Government-controlled part of Luhanska Oblast.

Some 3.4 million people require humanitarian assistance and protection in eastern Ukraine.  Aid agencies need $168 million to provide education, food security and livelihood support, as well as health and other urgent assistance to 1.9 million of the most vulnerable people.  The aid appeal is just 16 per cent funded.

**Haiti

We have an update on the situation in Haiti.  Our humanitarian colleagues report that the number of civilians displaced by clashes between gangs in Port-au-Prince has now reached about 10,000.  More than 50 people have died, and many others have been injured since clashes started at the beginning of the month.

Cases of gender-based violence have been reported among the displaced and those sheltering with host families.  This includes rape and “sex for shelter”.

COVID-19 outbreaks among those displaced is another big concern.

Together with local authorities, national and international partners, the UN is responding to the most urgent needs by providing food, drinking water, shelter, hygiene and sanitation and psychosocial support.

Unfortunately, assistance is reaching only about a third of those who need it because of access constraints due to insecurity and limited resources.

The UN calls for an end to the violence to allow displaced civilians to return home and to allow humanitarian access to reach those affected.

**COVID-19 — Africa

We have updates on what the UN is doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic, today from Uganda and Zambia.

As we have told you, Uganda is experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19, with nearly 1,000 people admitted to hospitals yesterday alone.

The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Rosa Malango, is helping to urgently procure 3,000 oxygen cylinders, with the World Health Organization (WHO) helping to deliver oxygen-related supplies and working to repair and maintain oxygen plants across the country.

We are also working with the private sector to urgently import essential supplies.  This evening, an additional shipment of 175,000 COVAX vaccines is expected to arrive.  As of yesterday, more than 830,000 shots have been administered across Uganda.

In Zambia, our UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, is also supporting authorities to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic, especially the current wave which increased the daily positivity rate to 22 per cent.

Two months ago, Zambia received nearly 230,000 doses of vaccines from COVAX, and a new batch is expected soon.

We have helped train health staff to handle misinformation and have shared messages, including for people living with HIV.  Our team has distributed 3 million pieces of personal protective equipment and 620 oxygen concentrators and cylinders.

**UN Office of Counter-Terrorism

Today, our colleagues at the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism have opened a Programme Office on Parliamentary Engagement in Preventing and Countering Terrorism.

This new Programme Office aims to foster collaboration between parliamentarians and parliamentary assemblies around the world.

The Office is located in Doha and is being opened in collaboration with the Shura Council of the State of Qatar.

You can find more information online.

**International Day of Family Remittances

Today is the International Day of Family Remittances.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General notes that as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last year, so, too, did concerns about the potential negative impact of the crisis on remittances and on families that rely on them.  Fortunately, he says, remittances have proved to be much more resilient and dependable than expected.

The Secretary-General points out that the most recent data from the World Bank found that remittances to low- and middle-income countries reached $540 billion in 2020.  This is just 1.6 per cent below the 2019 total.

The Secretary-General stresses that looking forward, we must continue efforts to support and protect migrants who play an important role in keeping essential services and the economy at large running in many parts of the world.  He also emphasizes that ensuring that all migrants, regardless of legal immigration status, are included in COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans is critical for the health and safety of all.

**Financial Contribution

And I will close with some good news.  Our friends in Andorra have paid their regular budget dues in full.  That takes us to 108.

And a factoid for you quiz fans out there:  Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe, at an elevation of 1,023 metres, or 3,356 feet, above sea level.  Just to show that we can provide useful information on a range of topics.

And now over to your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The summit between the Russian and the US President just concluded, and Mr. [Vladimir] Putin described it as rather constructive.  The two countries announced that they will return the ambassadors to their posts in Moscow and Washington.  What is the Secretary-General’s stand on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, we’re looking forward to learning more about the outcomes of today’s summit, considering it’s just wrapped up.  At the same time, I’d like to say that we’ve consistently supported all efforts at dialogue, and we hope that today’s discussions to address pressing global challenges and to achieve greater strategic stability and security will move us forward.

Yes?

Question:  Just to follow up, does that mean there might be a statement later about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think this is what we’ll have for right now, but like I said, at this stage, we’ll take stock and see exactly what the results of today’s meetings were.  But certainly, the discussions itself were a good thing.  We had already pointed out how valuable it is to have the leaders of countries, including the countries of the Security Council, hold these sorts of meetings with each other and work out any differences.  And like I said, at this stage, we look forward to learning more about what the outcomes were.

Yes, Kristen?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  As I’m sure you know, last night, there was escalating violence again in the Middle East, incendiary balloons coming from Gaza, air strikes from the Israelis into Gaza.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that, any concerns about what this means for the so-called ceasefire?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, what I can say about that is that the Secretary-General expresses concern over the most recent round of violence.  It calls for the full respect of the ceasefire agreed on 20 May.  He would like to see the cessation of hostilities be maintained and solidified in order to give space for the relevant parties to work out arrangements to stabilize the situation.

UN Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland is continuing his diplomatic engagements with all sides towards that aim.

Yes?

Question:  A second question, if I may?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  You mentioned Haiti, and I’m sorry if I missed this in the past, but can you give us any idea of what the UN is doing in terms of coronavirus and vaccinations down there?  Do they have anything happening?

Deputy Spokesman:  What our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have said is that they do expect a shipment of vaccines to go to Haiti soon, and once that goes there, we can begin distributing that.  So, we’re hopeful that that will take place.

Question:  Sorry.  One more.  Just… are… there’s been some concerns about their capability of handling the vaccines.  Are you confident that they have that ability?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re aware of what the difficulties are, and in all the countries that we work with, we’re aware of the challenges that different countries face in terms of, for example, their own health infrastructure, and we’ll try to make adjustments accordingly.

Yeah, Toby?

Question:  Hi.  Thanks, Farhan.  Couple of questions on Myanmar, Friday is shaping up to be a big day here at the UN for Myanmar, with meetings in both the General Assembly and the Security Council.  Any chance we can get a briefing from the Special Envoy, who is now in New York?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  She is in New York, and we are, in fact, trying to arrange a stakeout for her.  So, we’ll try to get something going with Christine Schraner Burgener, and we’ll provide more details once that’s ironed out.

Question:  And then another question on reports of a village that was burned to the ground by… reportedly by the military in Myanmar.  Have you seen that report?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve seen the reports, and we’re looking into the details to see what we can confirm about that.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  When there have been discussions about funding for the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and then, in general, there’s been concern about getting countries to pay their fair share of taxes or tax systems, and, so, what is the response to the ProPublica disclosures of the fact that the multi-billionaires in this country very often connive to pay zero income tax?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe you asked this question to Stéphane [Dujarric] yesterday.

Question:  I did, yes.

Deputy Spokesman:  And as with him, we have no comment on this.  We hope, in general, that all countries take seriously the efforts to ensure that their tax systems are solid.

Question:  But Maureen Dowd wrote a very powerful article, making reference to Madame DeFarge in A Tale of Two Cities, and she seems to be warning that we’re heading down a very dangerous, slippery slope with this kind of tax system.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’ll certainly leave that analysis to people like yourself and Ms. Dowd.

Abdelhamid, I believe you have a question?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  I have two, in fact.  First, in 1968, Farhan, Israel decided to do a military parade in East Jerusalem in violation of resolution 242.  Security Council met and adopted resolution 250…

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, before we go too far, I want to make it clear, this is meant to be an informational briefing.  So, if you have a question, please get to the question.  I’m aware that you have your various other points.  [cross talk]

Question:  I have a question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Okay.  Go ahead.

Question:  Is Israel in violation of international law when they conducted the flag parade yesterday in east… Occupied East Jerusalem?  I need a straightforward answer.  Was Israel in violation of international law or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that we’ve made clear what our concerns are.  We want… again, for us, the main priority at this stage is the ceasefire, which, as we’ve said several times over the past week, is still a fragile one and needs to be shored up.

We want to make sure that the cessation of hostilities are maintained and solidified, and we are working against any actions that can put that cessation of hostilities in danger.  So, that is what we’re doing.

At this stage, the UN is in contact with all relevant parties on matters related to the cessation of hostilities, and we’ll try to see what arrangements can be put in place to stabilize the situation.

Yes, Toby?

Question [Toby]:  Thanks, Farhan.  A question on a GA high-level week.  I know that the General Assembly has a business continuity…  [cross talk]

Question [Abdelhamid]:  My second question… Sorry, I have a second question.  [cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  I’ll come back to you.  Yes, yes.  You had a…

Correspondent:  Sorry about that, Abdelhamid.

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, is yours on a separate topic?

Correspondent:  It’s a… yeah.  It’s a different question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  So Abdelhamid first and then Toby.

Question:  Yeah, just follow-up.  Today, there’s a young woman… [inaudible] a 29-year-old.  She was shot and killed with no [inaudible] at the checkpoint near the village of Hizma near Jerusalem.  Are you aware of this incident, too?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re trying to collect all of the various bits of data around incidents of violence that have occurred, and we are trying to do what we can to make sure that all violence is halted.

Okay.  Over to you, Toby.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Has the Secretariat been…

Question:  Did you notice that the… [cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve moved on.  Yes, Toby.  Your turn.

Question:  Okay.  Just about high-level week in September, basically wondering if there are any updates, because there’s a business continuity meeting today.  Are you expecting anything or any new preparations to announce?

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s nothing to announce just yet.  After I’m done, Amy Quantrill, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President, will be talking to you.  And if there’s any updates to give, she’ll have those.

James Reinl?

Question:  Thanks so much, Farhan.  I’ve got a diary date tomorrow for a UN pledging conference towards Venezuelan refugees.  Do you have any information on that?  For example, is Mr. [António] Guterres going to be speaking?  And what will we be able to get from you guys in terms of a final sum that was raised and what kind of time that might be coming out?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll try to get some details from our OCHA colleagues about what that meeting will entail.  That’s not one of those that’s on the Secretary-General’s programme as of right now.

And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon, and Amy will be on the line.

Oh, wait.  Sorry.  One more thing actually, the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) are convening that Venezuela refugee conference.  So, those are the ones to contact about follow-up on that.

Thanks very much.

For information media. Not an official record.