The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Let me start off with Mali: The UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports today that one of its Temporary Operating Bases in a village in the Gao Region was targeted earlier this morning in an attack involving a vehicle-borne [improvised] explosive device (IED). Preliminary information indicates that  UN peacekeepers from Germany were wounded. A casualty evacuation process is currently under way.
This incident follows yesterday’s attack with another improvised explosive device on another UN patrol in the same area, which thankfully did not result in casualties.
The UN Mission, and we of course join them, in strongly condemning this attack and we all wish a speedy and full recovery to our colleagues. […]
The Secretary-General wrapped up his trip to Brussels today.
In the morning, he met with the King and Queen of the Belgians. He thanked them for their support on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He also thanked Queen Mathilde for her continued engagement as an SDG advocate.
Later in the morning, he met with the Cypriot leaders to discuss issues related to the Cyprus issue.
Finally, he joined Emperor Naruhito of Japan virtually for the fifth UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters.
He said that the climate crisis is intensifying water-related disasters, creating complex challenges and threatening lives and jobs.
The Secretary-General added that the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a precious opportunity to rebuild societies and economies stronger and better. This, he said, includes investing in resilience, while meeting water management challenges like floods and droughts, and providing water and sanitation services to all.
He called on the international community to use opportunities such as the International Decade for Action to mobilize around transforming the management of water and achieving the water-related Sustainable Development Goals. The remarks were shared with you.
The Secretary-General will be back in New York and in the office on Monday morning.
On Tuesday evening, he will be leaving and heading to Paris to take part in the opening segment of the Generation Equality Forum convened by UN-Women and co-chaired by France and Mexico. The Secretary-General will underscore the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women and girls and how it has accentuated the great imbalances of power and the failures of the social order that end up harming women.
He will also highlight the work of new generations of activists, politicians and women leaders of all ages which are creating a new dynamic to restore the balance of power.
While in Paris, he is also expected to have a bilateral meeting with President [Emmanuel] Macron.
On Thursday, the Secretary-General will go to Valencia in Spain where he will visit the UN logistics base at Quart de Poblet to mark its tenth anniversary. While in Valencia, he will also meet with university students and engage with them in a dialogue on today’s most pressing issues.
He will then travel to Madrid where he is expected to meet Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and have an audience with [His Majesty] King Felipe VI. He will also meet with the Vice-President for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, and take part in a round table with climate entrepreneurs.
I do not need to tell you that Geir Pedersen briefed the Security Council in person this morning. You will have heard him and heard him just a few moments ago.
Turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues warn that an increasingly desperate situation for millions of people is continuing.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tells us that conflict is continuing unabated, including in Ma’rib, where violence has displaced over 22,000 people since early February. Humanitarians are scaling up, but ultimately what people need is an end to the fighting across the country.
The country’s economy is in freefall. The value of the Yemeni currency reached record lows earlier this month, meaning that more people can afford less food and basic goods. This is alarming, since more than half of the country’s population is facing food insecurity and 5 million people are one step away from famine.
A surge in donor support over the past few months has had a significant impact. Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan is now 44 per cent funded, up from 15 per cent just in February, so we thank those who have given and encourage others to do the same. But, as you see, much of the funding will run out in the coming months.
Without additional, flexible and predictable funding, we will face yet another funding cliff and millions of people will see reductions in the life-saving assistance they so urgently need.
On Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, today strongly condemned the Myanmar military’s widespread and systematic attacks against civilians, especially women and children, as well as other serious violations of human rights since it seized power on 1 February.
She said that night raids; arbitrary arrests; sieges of townships and neighbourhoods; torture and deaths in detention; attacks on locations and sites where civilians are gathered or have fled; and reports of sexual violence in detention sites — particularly sexual assault, torture, physical and verbal abuse and intimidation — have become an alarming feature of daily life.
She said that these alleged reports of sexual violence may amount to violations of international criminal law for those who commit, command, or condone them.
She said that the patterns of sexual violence perpetrated by the Tatmadaw against women from ethnic and religious minority groups, as well as against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are extremely concerning.
She urged the Tatmadaw to cease all acts of sexual violence immediately.
For its part, our colleagues in the UN Country Team in Myanmar today called for the immediate release of dozens of detained journalists. Since the military takeover of the Government on February 1st, at least 93 journalists have been arrested and [at least] 54 journalists remain under detention.
Eight media outlets in Myanmar have had their licenses revoked. Our colleagues say they fear that people working for these news organizations will be arrested, with many having gone into hiding.
The Country Team in Myanmar urges the military to release all people who have been detained arbitrarily, including journalists. They stress that freedom of expression is the cornerstone of any democracy.
A COVAX update for you: Costa Rica received 40,950 vaccine doses through COVAX last night, bringing the total number of vaccine doses received to 172,950.
And on Wednesday, Honduras received an additional shipment of 19,310 vaccine doses. The Honduran Government handled the transportation of this fourth COVAX shipment through its health ministry.
I meant to flag that Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix, head of peacekeeping, will be travelling to the Middle East from 27 June to 2 July.
He will visit the UN Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF.
Mr. Lacroix will be meeting with senior Government officials and key stakeholders in Syria and Israel to discuss the Mission’s work in a challenging environment.
He will also meet with the people working at the Mission and thank them for their dedication and contribution.
The Ministerial Forums for the High-Level Dialogue on Energy wrapped up this morning.
Energy commitments included announcements by the major power supplier in India, NTPC; Power Africa, which committed to getting electricity to more health centres in Africa; and Student Energy, which said it would mobilize $150 million to train 35,000 young energy leaders in 100 countries.
Some 50 ministers joined over the week, to voice their commitment to clean, affordable energy for all by 2030.
**International Day of the Seafarer
Today is the International Day of the Seafarer. In his message, the Secretary-General said the life and work of seafarers have been affected dramatically by the pandemic. Throughout the crisis, seafarers have faced enormous challenges concerning repatriation, travel to join their ships, proper access to vaccinations and medical care, and shore leave.
The Secretary-General said the members of this multinational workforce of 1.6 million people must be recognized as key workers who deliver an essential service and be given access to transit and travel, adding that seafarers must also have equitable access to vaccines, as nobody is safe until everyone is safe.
**Press Briefings on Monday
Monday, I will be joined at the noon briefing by the President of Estonia, Her Excellency Kersti Kaljulaid. She will be here to discuss, among other things, Estonia’s Presidency of the Security Council in June.
And at 1 p.m. on Monday, there will be hybrid press briefing with Jean-Pierre Lacroix joining us by video. We will also be joined here, I think, by Catherine Pollard, the Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, and the South African Ambassador to the United Nations, Mathu Joyini. They will brief on the meeting that will be taking place on Monday called “Strengthening the Conduct of Peacekeeping Personnel”.
And I end on a good note. We have a fresh contributor to the 2021 regular budget.
This country — whose capital is Gitega — participated in its first Olympic Games in 1996 and had a gold medal winner in those Games. What country? [The country is Burundi.]
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: … What country? Come on, what country has the capital of Gitega. Did you look on the Google machine? All right. You’re going to be booted out. [laughter]
Edie, go ahead.
Question: Steph, I wonder if DPKO (Department of Peace Operations) can clarify a difference on this attack in Mali. The German Defence Minister says that 12 Germans and a soldier from another country were wounded. And she says three… three were seriously hurt. So, can you please try and get an explanation from DPKO on the discrepancy in numbers and nationalities? Thank you.
Spokesman: Definitely. We will try do to that before the briefing is over.
Question: Yes. In terms of the bombing in Tigray and your access to the site, have you been given permission to access the site…?
Question: And as you just said no, is it acceptable… does the Secretary-General think it’s acceptable that you have not been given access?
Spokesman: Two things. I was on touch with our colleagues on the ground before the briefing. We tried yesterday and today… yesterday and the day before, and it’s not just a matter of getting permission; at this point, the fighting continues to be rather intense in the area, so it is not acceptable on so many levels. We need to get in there to assess the situation. We need to get access to those people who need help, and it is incumbent upon all the parties involved to ensure that humanitarians have full and unimpeded access.
Toby. And that country was Burundi. You mumbled it, but I wanted to thank our friends in Burundi for paying their budget dues.
Correspondent: I did have to Google it.
Spokesman: We’re going to have to disable the Wi-Fi.
Question: Fair enough. A couple of Japan-focused questions today. What is the Secretary-General really looking to Japan for in terms of water crisis management? Does he think that Japan has any… obviously, there’s some vulnerabilities there, but do they see some expertise that Japan can lend?
Spokesman: I think Japan can definitely have a leadership role. They’ve taken a leadership in ensuring that water remains at the top of the global agenda, that access to water remains at the top of the global agenda, and we know Japan has technological know-how that is top, and we would… so we look for Japan for leadership not only on advocacy but on technology, as well.
Okay. Let me see if we have a question in the chat. Nothing in the chat. James?
Question: A few more questions. The Special Envoy for Yemen is obviously vacant. How… given it’s one of the items you read out at the beginning of the briefing, and it’s obviously one of the most important files of the UN, how quickly does the Secretary-General hope to have a new Special Envoy in place?
Spokesman: We hope to have one as soon as possible. I would say that the office is far from leaderless. There’s an acting envoy, and they’re continuing their work, but obviously, it is very important to have somebody in that post, so the consultations are ongoing. We hope to have somebody soon.
Question: Afghan leaders are visiting the White House this afternoon and obviously there’s lots of concern about what happens next in Afghanistan. How prepared is the UN for a humanitarian refugee emergency in Afghanistan this year?
Spokesman: Look, we are fully cognizant of what is going on in Afghanistan. We’re fully cognizant of what may happen in the next few months. Our humanitarian colleagues are looking at all sorts of scenarios. If there is, in fact, a major humanitarian… I mean, there already is a major humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, but if it is compounded by massive flows of people, either internally or externally, that will also require additional funding for donors. And our humanitarian appeals, whether in Afghanistan or other places, are… continue to be underfunded.
Question: I have two more, but I’ve not been attending these briefings every day, so I’m not sure if you’ve given a recent answer on these. What’s the status now of Fabrizio Hochschild? Is he… is he still suspended?
Spokesman: That… the status is unchanged.
Question: And… sorry. One that’s just baffled a little bit coming back to New York. Very pleased I can go to the supermarket without a mask, but I still have to wear one in the UN. Can you explain what the current thinking is? Given that… I would think that nearly everybody in this building has been doubly vaccinated.
Spokesman: We should have some updated guidance coming out in the next few days, if not early next week, on all of that.
Question: Does the UN have something on the residential building collapse in Florida?
Spokesman: I mean, we’re… I think whether it’s the Secretary-General, all of us here, we send our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. I think we can’t… it’s hard to imagine the anguish of people waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones. We are all thinking of them and sending our condolences and hoping for the best.
Okay. Thank you, all. See you Monday.
Correspondent: Stéphane, I have a question, my friend.
Spokesman: Ah, Apostolis. Sorry, I didn’t… we didn’t see you, but we’re happy to have you.
Question: Thank you very much. Could you please give us an update on Mrs. Jane [Holl] Lute’s meetings in Nicosia? I think she was until yesterday. Also, tell us about the meetings of Mr. Lacroix in Nicosia, you skipped them. And finally, the Secretary-General having all these meetings, you know, Ms. Lute, his personal contact with the two leaders. Is he thinking that he can reconvene the 5+1, or it’s impossible to have something like this?
Spokesman: Okay. Let me try to unpack all those questions. Ms. Lute is back in New York. At least in the United States. She did have meetings with the parties on the island. This is part of what the Secretary-General tasked her to do after the meeting in Geneva, which concluded in the way that you know very well and that you’re well aware of.
As soon as I think there is something to announce, when there is something to announce in terms of a next step, we will do so, but at this point, nothing really has changed since Geneva, but we are continuing to speak to all of the interested parties.
Question: And Mr. Lacroix’s meetings?
Spokesman: Lacroix, I don’t have an update. He’s in Cyprus. He was in Cyprus. I know he met… he had internal meetings with the Mission. Let me see if I can get something for you, if he had meetings outside of the Mission, as well.
Question: I had a question about something else to do with Tigray, which I wasn’t aware of until now, and you may not be aware of, but if you could give the UN’s reaction to… MSF (Médecins sans frontières) have just confirmed that three of their staff in Tigray, their emergency coordinator, their assistant coordinator and their driver, have been killed, they say, in a brutal murder in Tigray.
Spokesman: If this is, in fact, the case, then we cannot condemn strongly enough attacks on humanitarian workers. Humanitarian workers, whether in Tigray or in South Sudan — we’ve talked a lot about that, as well — are all too often targeted with, we fear, the goal of scaring away humanitarians. But what it does is denies men, women and children who need help the help that they need. So, we send our condolences to our colleagues at Médecins sans frontiers.
Toby, and then we’ll go to Iftikhar, who is waiting.
Question: I just want to check quickly. You said it was Monday for the President of Estonia as well as Mr. Lacroix?
Spokesman: That is correct.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Following up the questions on Afghanistan, there’s so much going on, talks in Washington, and the UN Envoy was in Islamabad a couple of days ago. Where is he now? And any update on the resumption of the peace conference?
Spokesman: No. No updates really since the pretty exhaustive, extensive briefing by Deborah Lyons a couple of days ago. Mr. [Jean] Arnault is also continuing his… Jean Arnault is also continuing his work. Again, like so many of the other files we deal with, when there is something concrete to announce, we will be delighted to announce it, but we have nothing to share at this point.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. All right. Thank you, all, and we shall see you Monday. We’ll try to get some clarity on the Mali count.