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1 March 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.  Good afternoon.  I realize I’m just the opening act, so I am going to try to get through this without being booed off the stage.

**Security Council President

Not that I have to tell you, but after me, you will hear from the new US Permanent Representative, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in her capacity as the President of the Security Council for March.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, the Secretary-General opened the High-Level Pledging Event for Yemen today.  He said that we need $3.85 billion this year to support 16 million Yemenis on the brink of catastrophe.  He implored all donors to fund our appeal generously [to stop famine] engulfing the country.  The Secretary-General said that more than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance and protection, with women and children among the hardest hit.  He added that more than 16 million people are expected to go hungry this year and nearly 50,000 Yemenis are already starving to death in famine-like conditions.  Mr. [António] Guterres said that the only path to peace is through an immediate, nationwide ceasefire and a set of confidence-building measures.  That should be followed by an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process under United Nations auspices and supported by the international community.  I’d like to remind you that there will be a press conference wrapping up the event and that’s at 1:40 p.m.  It will be fully virtual.  It will include the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock.  Other speakers will include Per Olsson Fridh, the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation [and Humanitarian Affairs], and Manuel Bessler, Delegate of the Federal Council and Head of Swiss Humanitarian Aid.  And Mr  Lowcock will also have a statement from the Secretary‑General on the outcomes of the conference.

**Myanmar

Turning to Myanmar, the Special Envoy is continuing her contacts with various stakeholders.  As you will have seen, we issued a statement yesterday in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the violent crackdown in the country, saying that he is deeply disturbed by the increase in deaths and serious injuries.  The use of lethal force against peaceful protestors and arbitrary arrests are unacceptable, he said.  He urged the international community to come together and send a clear signal to the military that it must respect the will of the people of Myanmar as expressed through the election and to stop the repression.

**Syria

On Syria, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Imran Riza, as well as the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Muhannad Hadi, have expressed sorrow over a deadly fire at Al Hol camp in northeast Syria.  Initial reports indicate that at least four residents, including three children and one woman, died in the tragic accident, and at least 26 were injured.  Mr. Riza and Mr. Hadi extend their heartfelt sympathy to the affected families.  They further emphasize that this distressing event underlines the fact that no one — most of all innocent children — should be living under the challenging and potentially dangerous humanitarian conditions in Al Hol camp.  Mr. Riza and Mr. Hadi express their concern that unless measures are taken to address the long‑term welfare of camp residents, more tragic incidents at Al Hol are inevitable.

**Central African Republic

And our colleagues in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tell us they are continuing to support the national authorities to prepare for the second round of legislative elections, scheduled for 14 March.  The Mission expects to complete the deployment of election materials from Bangui to the prefectures by this coming Friday.  In Kaga-Bandoro in the Nana-Gribizi Prefecture, the Deputy Special Representative, Lizbeth Cullity, met with local authorities and members of the local elections committee, as well as community leaders.  They discussed the implementation of the Political Agreement, the humanitarian situation and challenges to the organization of the second round of elections.  The Mission also sensitized local communities on the electoral process, including on voting procedures and their role to promote peaceful legislative elections.  This took place in Bangassou.

**Libya

Turning to Libya, aid organizations are appealing for $189 million to meet pressing humanitarian needs in the country in 2021.  The funding will provide critical supplies to 451,000 people — that’s 36 per cent of the 1.3 million people identified as needing humanitarian assistance this year.  Those targeted include people with the most severe needs due to the partial or total collapse of living standards and basic services, increased reliance on negative coping strategies, and widespread physical and mental harm.  Among them are internally displaced people, returnees, and migrants and refugees.

**Chad

Turning to Chad, I was asked a question about a recent attack in N’Djamena, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General regrets the use of violence and the subsequent loss of life reported at the residence of the presidential candidate, Yaya Dillo, that took place in N´Djamena.  He urges national authorities to conduct a prompt and rigorous investigation into th e incident and to hold those responsible accountable.  The Secretary-General deplores the use of force in the context of the electoral process in Chad.  He urges the Chadian authorities to favour political dialogue ahead of the forthcoming elections and to continue efforts to foster an inclusive political process.

**Maldives/COVAX

Some good news on the vaccine front: our team in Maldives, led by the Resident Coordinator, Catherine Haswell, has been supporting the country’s inclusion in COVAX.  Some 200,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.  The Government announced plans to vaccinate the full population of Maldives.  The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are helping with planning and coordination, including by training health‑care staff on managing and administering the vaccine.  Maldives was among the first countries to receive syringes through the COVAX facility.  UNICEF is also providing support for the cold chain, supply and storage management for vaccines.  As of today, [more than] 111,000 people have been vaccinated.  The priority has been for front‑line workers and people in high-risk groups.  The national vaccination programme ensures coverage to all Maldivians and residents in the country, regardless of their nationality, which is a good thing.  The free vaccination of undocumented migrant workers by the Red Crescent in Maldives began on 24 February, backed by UN advocacy for vaccine equity and inclusion for all residents.  We are helping to combat misinformation and increase awareness among the public about the vaccine.  And also, vaccine distribution under COVAX got underway today in both Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.

**Zero Discrimination Day

Today is Zero Discrimination Day.  This year, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), is highlighting the urgent need to take action to end the inequalities surrounding income, sex, age, health status, occupation, disability, race and other factors that continue to persist around the world.  UNAIDS warns that inequality is growing [for] more than 70 per cent of the global population, increasing the risk of division and hampering economic and social development.  The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, said that COVID-19 has magnified the fissures in our society, adding that the pandemic has seen marginalized communities taking the hardest economic hit, getting stuck at the back of the line for vital services and being scapegoated for the crisis.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

Tomorrow, my guest will our friend, the Chief Economist of the United Nations, Elliott Harris.  He will brief you on a new system of natural capital accounting known as SEEA, “the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting”, expected to be adopted by the fifty-second session of the UN Statistical Commission, organized by [the Department of Economic and Social Affairs].

**Western Sahara

Two other things I needed to flag to you:  one, in response to what Abdelhamid had asked me about Western Sahara, I can tell you that, as of today, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) continues to receive unconfirmed reports of sporadic firing across the berm.  The Mission continues to monitor the situation throughout the Territory, including in Guerguerat, to the extent possible given its capabilities.  We continue to urge the parties to exercise restraint.

**Lebanon

On Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that, in relation to the oil spill and tar deposited in parts of the coastline in Lebanon, the Mission has been in touch with local authorities.  The Mission is also trying to see what help could be provided within its available capabilities and equipment.  As part of immediate assistance, UNIFIL donated equipment and tools to clean the coastline.  One contingent also contributed a donation of additional personal protective equipment.  Additionally, over the weekend, UNIFIL military and civilian personnel joined local communities and volunteers in cleaning the shores in Tyre and Naqoura.  And I know colleagues from relevant parts of the UN system have been in touch with the Israelis to see if there is anything they can do on that end. Okay.  Michelle and then James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A question on Myanmar.  Obviously, over the weekend, the Myanmar military said that they had fired the UN Ambassador here.  Have you received any communication from either the Myanmar military to notify that they're now in charge or that the ambassador has been fired?

Spokesman:  No.  In fact, I just checked on my way here.  We have not received any communication concerning changes in the representation of Myanmar here at the UN in New York.  Excuse me.  And we… nor have we rec… nor have our colleagues in Protocol received any information from the Permanent Mission of Myanmar on any changes in the Government.

Question:  So, just to clarify then, is it fair to say that Myanmar's UN Ambassador is still the UN Ambassador?

Spokesman:  What I would say to you is that we have not received anything officially from the Permanent Mission indicating any change.  Mr. Bays and then Edie.  Sorry.

Question:  One on Myanmar and then another follow‑up on Myanmar and then another subject.  In your statement at the weekend, you urged the international community to come… or the Secretary‑General urged the international community to come together and send a clear signal.  Can I direct that to part of the international community, the Security Council?  What does the SG want from the Security Council right now?

Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary‑General would like from the Security Council is continued unified messaging to the military authorities to reverse their actions and to return Myanmar to its proper democratic institutions that reflect the will of the people.

Correspondent:  And on the Yemen pledging event, we have been invited to a press conference that we cannot actually attend, I'm told.  We can watch and, apparently, we're allowed to submit questions at 11 a.m., at which point the pledging wasn't even clear where it had got to.  I mean, it's really pretty unacceptable situation.  We have to… we didn't know the end result of the event before the questions were submitted.

Spokesman:  No, I understand.  All right.  So, let… I will be in touch with my colleagues from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] as soon as we're done here.

Question:  So, I'm going to have to ask my question to you, because I can't ask the questions then.  So, I'm going to ask the Secretary‑General, Mr. [David] Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme, said $1.9 billion was needed just to avert an imminent famine.  It doesn't look like you've got that.  How disappointed and concerned is the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Very concerned.  I mean, obviously, we will have to wait till the final pledges come through to get you a full reaction, but the indications so far do not point in the right direction.  Cut‑off of aid is not something that will have some sort of an impact 5, 10, 20 years down the road.  It will an immediate impact.  It will mean people will not get food, will not get the humanitarian aid they need, within a context where people are already dying.  Sorry.  Edie and then Pam.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Further on Myanmar and the ambassador, and then I had another question, as I understand it, don't… doesn't the issue of credentials have to go to the General Assembly Credentials Committee if there is a challenge, or is the installation of a military Government by force, more or less, automatically recognized?  I don't believe that's the case.

Spokesman:  No, they're… it would not surprise you to know that there are certain processes in place here at the United Nations.  If… first of all, we need to be notified officially of a change in Government, in a change in the permanent representation.  If… and as you say, Edie, if there are questions about the credentials of someone sitting in a seat of a particular Member State, that is up to the Member States themselves to challenge and to discuss through the General Assembly's Credentials Committee.

Question:  Okay.  Could you tell us what's happening about efforts to get a serious humanitarian team and humanitarian aid into Tigray?  I'm reading here that there's still a lot of push‑back from the Government.

Spokesman:  Yes.  We're not getting the… we are not getting the approvals that we need in terms of unfettered access.  Earlier last week, we had 84 international aid workers, which is both UN and international NGOs [non‑governmental organizations], approved to access for Tigray, and that's out of the 106 we had requested.  Most of them were on the ground in Mekelle, but most of these approvals were for staff that were returning, and obviously, we expect the needs to be greater than they were before the conflict.  And furthermore, we need less bureaucratic roadblocks.  We operate within the sovereign country of Ethiopia and no one is challenging that.  And we, of course, have to work with the authorities, but we would respectfully ask that we would be able to have… to be able to deliver aid where it's needed in a fast and efficient manner.

Question:  And as a follow‑up, have the aid workers been able to go to all parts of Tigray or are they still barred from…?

Spokesman:  No.  Most of them are in Mekelle.  Some have been able to access some of the refugee camps but not to everywhere we need to be.  Pamela?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  What is the protocol?  I'm allowed to take this off?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Question:  Quick follow‑up on Edie's question, and that is, on the credentials, just to be clear, are you saying you know that it didn't go to the credentials… I mean a notification of this did not go to the Credentials Committee?  And what country is head of Credentials…?

Spokesman:  That you'd have to check… it's a GA committee.  No, that's not at all what I was saying.  What I was saying is we have… no notification came in to Protocol, which is the point‑of‑entry for…

Correspondent:  Before it would go… okay.  And then…

Spokesman:  For… notification of a change in Government or a change in Permanent Representative.  Whether or not it goes to the Credentials Committee, that's an issue for Member States to decide if there is a challenge.

Question:  Okay.  And the bigger question is just, on the IAEA DG [International Atomic Energy Agency Director General], today… [Rafael] Grossi said… or yesterday said that the… sort of put a plea out to the US and other parties to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to not get caught up in back‑and‑forth and get back on negotiations.  Has there been any communication?  Usually, the IAEA will write to the Secretary‑General.  Anything on that?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any direct communications recently between the IAEA and the Secretary‑General.  Okay.

Question:  Steph, just a quick follow‑up.  I don't think you answered James' question about…?

Spokesman:  You don't think I answered James' question?

Correspondent:  Yeah, about Myanmar…

Spokesman:  I think James is getting old, because if I don't usually answer his questions or he's just getting bored.  Yes?

Question:  On Myanmar, like, what does the SG want from the Security Council and the international community to, as the SG said, make sure this coup fails?

Spokesman:  I think I did answer the question.  Yeah.  I did.

Correspondent:  I don't think you did.

Spokesman:  I think I did.

Question:  Can you remind us of what you said?

Spokesman:  What the Secretary‑General wants is a strong and unified voice to the military leadership in Nay Pyi Taw, to reverse the actions they've taken, to respect the democrat… the will of the people of Myanmar as expressed democratically in the elections last year and, of course, respect their human rights in terms of freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, to see the political prisoners released, notably Aung San Suu Kyi, among the many that have been detained.  Okay.  Let's go to the screen.  I think, Sylviane, you had a question?

Question:  Yes, I have a question.  Just a moment, please.  It's on Lebanon.  You see me?  No.

Spokesman:  I see…

Question:  Yes.  It's on Lebanon.  Do you have any comments on the proposal of the Maronite Patriarch Rai to organize an international conference to settle the fundamental disputes which threaten the sustainability of Lebanon?  The request applica… he requests application of the decision of Security Council resolution in order to extend the sovereignty of the state over all Lebanese territory without exception, and he ask also for an international investigation on the 4 August 2020 Beirut blast.  I have another question, if you have any comments… announcement for a UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, no announcement on the Special Coordinator.  Najat Rochdi is currently fulfilling those functions very ably in Beirut.  We, obviously, continue to follow the developments in Lebanon very closely, and we've taken note of the call for the UN‑sponsored international conference by Patriarch Rai.  We continue to work with Lebanon and the international partners to explore ways we can continuously support Lebanon's stability.  And I think it bears to reiterate our call for the Lebanese leadership to form a government without delay to respond to the needs of the people and undertake the structural reforms to address the worsening socioeconomic situation.  Okay.  If you have another question, wave.  Otherwise, I will get off the stage.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  Today, the Prime Minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, officially accused Iran of being behind the explosion in the commercial ship [inaudible] in the Gulf of Oman.  So, Israel directly accused Iran.  Do you have anything to share with us on that?

Spokesman:  I think we all remain concerned about the volatile situation in the region.  I think it's important for all concerns to show restraint, both in actions and in statements, and to work to avoid any escalation and to work towards stability of the region.  Philippe?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  There was, apparently, some corruption in the political dialogue for Libya.  Can you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  My comment is that we stand against corruption, and we would encourage all Libyan political leaders to follow the process in a way that will reflect the will of the people of Libya.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I don't know if it was asked of you.  I was kicked out of system.  My Internet went off for some… but maybe it was not asked.  The report of the CIA on the [Jamal] Khashoggi death, what is the reaction of the Secretary‑General on the indication that prince of Saudi Arabia is guilty of this horrible homicide?  And then I have another quick question.  You can answer…?

Spokesman:  We have nothing new to add to what we've already said on the Khashoggi killing, which the Secretary‑General, if you'll remember, had called a horrendous crime, and he continues to stress for the need for an independent and impartial investigation and for accountability and reiterates his commitment, I think he has stated multiple times, for the protection of journalists to do their work, and of course, live.  Stefano?

Question:  But, my question… my question was, if… for the Secretary‑General, he should be punished, if he should be punished or not by international law or something.  But, the other question is about the death of Ambassador [Luca] Attanasio in Congo… Attanasio in Congo.  The wife of ambassador said in an interview that the ambassador… she was there viewing the conversation on the phone.  The ambassador had assurance from the UN about the security.  Means that the ambassador was asking if they had provided security for the trip and that he was assured by the UN.  This is what the wife of the ambassador said.  So, do you have any comment after that?

Spokesman:  Look, as I said, our… we are continuing our security review of what happened and we are continuing to support the criminal investigations by both the Congolese and the Italian Governments.  Obviously, it's going to take some time to figure out exactly what happened, but I would encourage you also to reach out to my colleague Greg Barrow at WFP, who is handling questions on the investigation.  Bays?

Question:  Yeah.  Just a follow‑up on Philippe's question.  You've condemned corruption in vote buying in Libya, but… hang on… it was a terribly close vote, and this may have affected the outcome of the vote and the people who are now running Libya.  How seriously is the UN investigating what happened, and will you overturn the result if the result was achieved by corruption?

Spokesman:  We will look into the matter very closely.  Okay.  Thank you, all.  I will leave you in the hands of the Permanent Representative of the United States.

For information media. Not an official record.