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25 February 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.

Okay.  Enough waiting.

**India/Pakistan

Let’s start off in India and Pakistan.  Just to say that the Secretary-General is encouraged by the joint statement issued by the militaries of India and Pakistan on their agreement to observing the ceasefire at the Line of Control in Kashmir and engaging through established mechanisms.  He hopes that this positive step will provide an opportunity for further dialogue. 

**Lebanon

And I have a statement on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which I think James asked about yesterday.  The Secretary-General has extended the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon from 1 March 2021 for a further two years, or until the completion of the cases before the Special Tribunal, if sooner, or the exhaustion of available funds, if sooner.  The extension is in accordance with Security Council resolution 1757 [2007].  Within the indicated two-year period, it is anticipated that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will progressively draw down its activities as the judicial work before the different Chambers is completed. 

The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the UN to support the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the fight against impunity for major crimes, in order to bring those responsible to justice.  The United Nations looks forward to the completion of the mandate of the Special Tribunal in a timely manner.  The full statement is being shared with you as we speak. 

**Cyprus

And in a statement we issued last night, you will seeing that following the consultations conducted on behalf of the Secretary-General by Jane Holl Lute, that consultation was done over the past several months, the Secretary-General intends to convene an informal five-plus-one meeting on the Cyprus issue in Geneva, from 27 to 29 April 2021. 

The purpose of the meeting will be to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution to the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable horizon. 

**Niger

And in a joint statement issued this morning, we, along with the Economic Commission of West African States — otherwise known as ECOWAS — have taken note of the provisional results of the second round of the presidential election, announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission of Niger. 

We congratulate the people of Niger for the great mobilization and peaceful participation in the presidential ballot. 

But we strongly condemn the acts of violence that occurred following the announcement of the provisional results.  In this context, everyone should exercise restraint. 

We, along with ECOWAS, invite all stakeholders to comply with the legal provisions that guarantee the peaceful conduct of the electoral process, in particular those relating to the settling of electoral disputes. 

We stand ready to support the people of Niger in their efforts to consolidate peace and democracy. 

And I can add, of course, that the Secretary-General is following the situation very closely.  He calls on all candidates and their supporters to maintain the exemplary conduct that prevailed during the elections and to allow the electoral process to conclude in a peaceful manner, urging all parties to resolve any election-related disputes through dialogue and the appropriate legal channels. 

**Syria

Today, in the virtual Security Council, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed members on Syria.  He focused on three points; the economic crisis and the rise in food insecurity; humanitarian access; and the protection of civilians. 

Mr. Lowcock said that around 60 per cent of the Syrian population, that is 12.4 million people, do not have regular access to safe and nutritious food.  That is according to recent data from the World Food Programme.  An additional 4.5 million people have fallen into this category over the past year. 

On access, he said that a failure to extend the cross-border authorization to bring humanitarian assistance through north-west Syria would trigger suffering and loss of life on a massive scale.  He said the UN is continuing its efforts to conduct a first cross-line mission into north-west Syria.  The aim is not to have a one-off mission, he added, but to have regular cross-line missions that complement the ongoing cross-border operation. 

And he noted that an increase of horrific bombings has killed dozens of civilians and injured many more in northern Syria in recent months.

**Myanmar

And on Myanmar, just to say that we are deeply concerned that an increasing number of people are now being held in detention.  The UN country team on the ground says that at least 150 people were arrested in protests in Nay Pyi Taw on 22 February, and that is on Nay Pyi Taw alone. 

The UN team is currently tracking more than 900 political and state officials, activists and civil society members — including journalists, monks and students — now being detained.  And of course, we call for their immediate release.  And as a reminder, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar will be briefing the General Assembly tomorrow. 

**Sudan

Turning to Sudan, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Axel Bisschop, recently visited West Darfur.  He met with some of the 170,000 people who were displaced by intercommunal violence last month. 

Mr. Bisschop also held talks with community leaders, the Governor of West Darfur and relief organizations. 

We and our partners have provided one month’s worth of food rations, as well as water and sanitation services to more than 70,000 displaced people near Geneina.  More aid will be delivered this week. 

The efforts are part of the overall $1.9 billion humanitarian response plan for all of Sudan, which aims to help almost 9 million people in need. 

**Malaysia — Vaccination

A few notes.  An update from Malaysia, which started its COVID-19 vaccination programme yesterday:  The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Stefan Priesner, has been supporting authorities with this programme.  The first phase targets frontline workers, including those working in health care, essential services, defence and security.  More than half a million people have registered to receive the vaccine.  Malaysia’s vaccination plan aims to reach 80 per cent — that is 24 million adults — by March of next year.   

The UN team has helped Malaysia join the COVAX Facility to expand vaccinations to include non-nationals, including refugees and undocumented people.  The UN agencies are working with authorities to begin vaccinating people in these groups. 

We also helped plan, prepare, assess and procure vaccines through COVAX and other channels, including supporting logistics for distribution. 

The entire UN team has worked on risk communication and community engagement. 

**COVID-19 — Vaccines

And also on vaccines, UNICEF announced today that it has signed a long-term agreement with AstraZeneca to supply vaccines for the COVAX Facility. 

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and its partners will now have access to up to 170 million doses of vaccines for some 85 countries.  This is the third such agreement for COVID-19 vaccines, following previously announced agreements with Pfizer and the Serum Institute of India. 

It is planned to have the vaccines delivered in the first quarter of this year. 

**COVID-19 — Oxygen 

And the World Health Organization (WHO) today announced the launch of a COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce.  It will bring together key organizations working on oxygen access. 

WHO warned that since the start of the pandemic, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge in low- and middle-income countries.  It is estimated that more than half a million people in these countries currently need 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen per day.   

The taskforce has determined an immediate funding need of $90 million to address key challenges in oxygen access and delivery in up to 20 countries.  The urgent, short-term requirements of additional countries will be measured and costed in the coming weeks, with the overall funding needs over the next 12 months estimated to be $1.6 billion — a figure that will be regularly reviewed by the taskforce. 

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Senior personnel appointment:  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Ms. Ligia Noronha of India as Head of the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  This is at the Assistant Secretary-General level. 

She will succeed Satya Tripathi of India, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his leadership and dedicated service during his tenure. 

Ms. Noronha is an economist with over 30 years of international experience in the field of sustainable development.  She has worked since 2014 as Director of UNEP’s Economy Division based in Nairobi, leading UNEP’s work on climate mitigation and energy transitions, green economies, sustainable consumption and production, as well as many other issues.  More information online.

**Stakeout

And this will come as surprise to you.  At 3 p.m. this afternoon, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the new US Permanent Representative, will speak at the Stakeout.  She is also presenting her credentials to the Secretary-General, I think, around 2 p.m.

**Financial Contributions

And we always try to end on a good note.  We say thank you to our friends in Tirana and Ashgabat, as Albania and Turkmenistan have paid us. 

**Questions and Answers

Célhia?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About South Sudan, I heard that, due to a lot of COVID cases, the… Juba is on lockdown.  Does it apply for the Mission?  And can the Mission people continue to do their work?

Spokesman:  We are… let me check on what our numbers are on South Sudan.  We, obviously, are continuing and have continued to do our work in peacekeeping operations despite the COVID situation.  Whenever there are contingents of personnel that are infected, we take the necessary safety measures. 

Sorry.  James?

Question:  Yes.  I have two follow‑ups of things you read out and then a question.  Let’s do the follow‑ups first.  I don’t have the statement on the STL yet, so I might be asking a question that’s answered in the statement, but what was… on the Special Tribunal in Lebanon, what was the way the funding problem has been dealt with?

Spokesman:  I will have to get back to you on the funding issue.  I should have had… I was thinking I should have had that information as I was speaking.

Question:  Okay.  And then the second one is on Cyprus.  So, you say work out whether the… there can be a solution in the foreseeable future.  Would you describe these as crunch talks?  And is the UN… if you don’t get anywhere this time, you’re giving up?

Spokesman:  We’re not in the business of doing ultimatums, as if we don’t… we’ll give up if something doesn’t happen.  I mean, I think, if you look at the ebb and flow of our efforts on Cyprus, there have been ebbs and there have been flows. 

Ms. Jane Holl Lute has been consulting with the parties.  We think this is an opportune time.  It’s an informal meeting, and we very much hope that there will be a positive outcome.

Question:  The new question is on Armenia, where, as you know, there’s a very tense situation, and the Prime Minister is suggesting that there… the army has been threatening a coup attempt against him.  Does the UN have any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, what we’re seeing in Armenia is of great concern to us.  It’s very important that all parties remain calm.  We urge restraint. 

We also encourage an inclusive dialogue to de‑escalate tensions and address political differences, and that needs to be done with full respect for the Constitution and the democratic process.

Edie and then Michelle and then Toby.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just to echo what James asked for about the funding on the Lebanon tribunal, which has been voluntary.

Spokesman:  My understanding is that it still has funds to operate on.  We’ll try to get you a more precise figure.

Question:  Okay.  My question is also on Myanmar on SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General Christine] Schraner Burgener.  What’s the status of her efforts and UN efforts to get her into Myanmar?

Spokesman:  Ongoing.  She’s continuing her contacts.  The Secretary‑General has been on the phone with people.  Her goal is, obviously, to get there but, more importantly, to ensure that there is respect for the outcome of the elections in November, that the will of the people of Myanmar is expressed democratically… be respected and that their fundamental rights [are] respected.

I think it’s important for the international community to remain united and to remain in close contact with political actors, civil society, and to ensure that the people of Myanmar are able to have their voices heard and their rights respected.

Question:  What reason has she… has the military government given her for not allowing her back into the country?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to go into what they’re saying.  What is clear is that she’s not been able to secure travels to Myanmar.

Michelle, then Toby.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just a quick follow‑up first on an issue that we raised a couple of months ago now, I think.  Any update on the investigation into the accusations against Fabrizio Hochschild?

Spokesman:  No.  As we’ve been saying, the work of the… of OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] is continuing.  I think, for everyone involved, it will be done as speedily and as thoroughly as possible.

Question:  And what’s his work status at the moment?

Spokesman:  He remains on leave with pay.

Question:  And another question on Tigray.  My colleagues have seen some satellite imagery that shows 500… fires that appear to have been deliberately set have destroyed around 500 structures this week in a town in northern Tigray.  Does the UN have any information or reaction?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we have no… I have no information on that.  Part of the problem, as we’ve been expressing, is the lack of unfettered access.  This is something also the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed following various reports of… troubling reports of human right violations. 

I think the faster we can get in there to deliver humanitarian aid, the better and also to… working with the authorities and the Government to investigate what are concerning reports.

Toby?

Question:  Sorry about that.  Thanks, Steph.  My question is, in light of the visit today by the new US Ambassador, who’s presenting her credentials, is there any more specificity that you can give on what you think the US nationally determined contribution (NDC) should be regarding the Paris Agreement?

And you probably can’t be too specific there, but can you remind us what the Secretary‑General is looking to the major emitters in terms of their NDCs?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We’re looking for boldness.  We’re looking for courage.  We’re looking for nationally determined goals that will lead us to a carbon‑free world by mid‑century, and I think the return of the US Government to Paris is a very important step.  Now, obviously, we will… I can’t speak to them and what they will come to… you know, what they will deliver, but I think we need to show… the major emitters need to show courage and need to be bold.

Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Like ten year… around ten years ago, the conflict in Syria and Libya started, and thanks to the UN efforts, there is some evolution in the situation in Libya.  However, in Syria still the situation getting bad and worse.  Today, there was a Security Council about the humanitarian situation.  For the UN, why still this conflict going on, developing?

Spokesman:  Well, it’s ongoing because there’s been… we’ve not been… I mean, there’s not been able to find a… we’ve not been able to… repeat that.  It is ongoing because those involved in the conflict have not been able to agree to a political solution.  I mean, there is no military solution to what is going on.  Right?  The only thing that is going on is the increased suffering of the people.  And I think if you look at… in Mr. [Geir] Pedersen’s efforts, I think he stated very openly his disappointment following the last meeting of the Constitutional Committee.  What we need now is credible engagement by all those involved politically into the political process.

Question:  And also, this new Syrian Ambassador to Security Council mentioned this morning that, in some parts of Syria, the Turkish presence there are forcing the population to use the Turkish lira.  Don’t you think it’s a kind of occupation?

Spokesman:  Look, I think what we have… I don’t have details of what is going on in that area.  What we have always called for is for the respect for the integrity of Syria by all countries, whether in the region or beyond.

Okay.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  About Secretary‑General’s statement on India‑Pakistan ceasefire along Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region, does the Secretary‑General plan to talk to the leaders of the two countries, to hold dialogue, to start the process for resolving the Kashmir dispute?

Spokesman:  There’s no plan that I’m aware of, but the Secretary‑General is always available for his good offices in any… between any Member States who would request it.

Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Associated Press today disclosed that Israel has built a grand facility near Dimona nuclear plant, the size of a football field with a number of floors.  It has, indeed [inaudible].  So, my first question, do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  No, I’ve seen the press reports.  I have no comment, because I have no way of verifying the veracity of those reports. 

And your second question?

Question:  My second question is about Sudan.  Today, Sudan said that they are insisting that the mediation between Ethiopia and Sudan is to be enlarged, including the United Nations.  Have you received any correspondence, official correspondence, from the Sudanese?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I didn’t hear… I didn’t hear what… I didn’t hear what is the letter about?

Question:  About expanding the mediation in the Ethiopian‑Sudanese‑Egyptian conflict to include the United Nations.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean…

Question:  Did you receive any…

Spokesman:  Concerning the dam, you mean?

I will check.  We have always supported a negotiated solution and also supported the African Union’s effort to reach that solution.

Okay.  James.

Question:  Yes.  Can I just… I know we ask this nearly every day, but is there an update on the advance mission to Libya?  And if… you’re shaking your head.  If there is likely to be news in the coming days, can we make sure, can we ask, request that there’s a statement even if the team arrives at the weekend?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Will do. 

All right.  I see Brenden [Varma] appear on the screen, as if by magic.  Say something and I will wave.

For information media. Not an official record.