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2 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.

**Ecuador

I will start off with a statement on Ecuador. 

The Secretary-General welcomed the holding of peaceful general elections on 7 February and took note of the announcement of the official results by the National Electoral Council on 21 February.  He trusts that the Electoral Disputes Tribunal will address any complaints promptly and diligently. 

The Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to act responsibly and with respect for the institutional and legal frameworks during the period leading up to the holding of the presidential run-off election on 11 April. 

**Guest

And once I am finished here, we will be joined by 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”.  This is expected to be adopted by the fifty-second session of the UN Statistical Commission, and Farhan [Haq] will moderate that remotely. 

**Climate

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke by video message to the Powering Past Coal Alliance virtual Summit hosted by Canada and the United Kingdom.  The Secretary-General called on Governments, private companies and local authorities to take three steps: first, to cancel all global coal projects in the pipeline and to end the deadly addiction to coal.  He urged all countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, to commit to phasing out coal by 2030 and urged non-OECD countries to do so by 2040. 

Second, to end the international financing of coal plants and shift investment to renewable energy projects. 

And third, to jump-start a global effort to finally organize a just transition, going coal plant by coal plant if necessary.  And that statement is online. 

**Yemen

You will have seen that yesterday afternoon, following the high-level pledging event on Yemen, the Secretary-General said that the outcome was disappointing.  The Secretary-General warned that cutting aid is a death sentence and thanked those who did pledge generously.  And he asked others to consider again what they can do to help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades. 

As you know, the pledges approximately amounted to $1.7 billion, less than we received for the humanitarian response plan last year, and a billion [dollars] less than what was pledged in 2019. 

**Nigeria

A couple of Nigerian notes, if you allow. 

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, today strongly condemned the attack by armed groups in Dikwa in Borno State.  Several aid facilities were attacked during that incident.

We are still receiving information from the attack, which started last night.  The premises of several aid agencies and a hospital were reportedly set ablaze or sustained damage. 

Mr. Kallon expressed concerns about the safety and security of civilians in Dikwa, including the internally displaced people that are inside and outside the camps, as well as the thousands of people who had returned to the community after years of being displaced. 

He said that this violent attack will impact the support provided to nearly 100,000 people who are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic could spread in Borno State. 

He stressed that civilians and aid workers, their facilities and assets should never be a target and must be protected at all times.  And he called on all armed parties to immediately stop the violence and respect international humanitarian and human rights law and ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers.

A couple of good news items from Nigeria:  First, as you will have seen, concerning the release of some 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped last week from Zamfara State.  They have been released. 

The Secretary-General is of course delighted with that news.

The UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Representative in the country, Peter Hawkins, reiterated that attacks on students and schools are not only reprehensible but a violation of the rights of children to an education, and he called on the Government to take all measures to protect schools in the country so that children will not be fearful of going to school, or parents afraid of sending their children to school. 

And a third item on Nigeria:  Today the country received nearly 4 million doses of the COVID-19 [vaccine] from the COVAX Facility. 

The delivery of the vaccine from India is part of a first wave of arrivals in Nigeria that will continue in the coming days and weeks. 

Edward Kallon, the Resident Coordinator, said that his team is committed to supporting the vaccination campaign. 

The arrival of the vaccines marks the beginning of the national vaccination plan, which targets priority groups, starting with frontline health-care workers. 

Our team has repurposed more than $6 million worth of existing funding to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic in Nigeria. 

**Central African Republic

I want to flag a joint statement on the outcoming of a virtual meeting in the Central African Republic, which brought together the African Union Commissioner, Smaїl Chergui, the President of the Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States, Ambassador Gilberto da Piedade Veríssimo, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and EU High Representative Josep Borrell.  They met with the Central African President, Faustin-Archange Touadéra. 

The discussion focused on the political situation and the peace process in the country.  They congratulated the President on his election and invited all national actors to accept the outcomes of the election as proclaimed by the Constitutional Court, and called on them to work together the electoral process within the legal deadlines and in a free, transparent, credible and inclusive manner. 

They also urged the President to open an inclusive political dialogue to de-escalate current tensions and help create conditions conducive to the strengthening of democracy, good governance, humanitarian access, as well as the promotion of human rights and to enable the sustainable return of internally displaced people and refugees. 

They also urged the President Touadéra to relaunch the peace and reconciliation process, including through the implementation of the February 2019 Political Agreement for peace and reconciliation. 

A joint communiqué will be issued with more details. 

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, I can tell you that our humanitarian colleagues have seen the media and other reports of abuses in Tigray and call on all to ensure that access is granted for humanitarian workers to provide required assistance and aid to victims and survivors. 

Looting of humanitarian supplies, destruction and vandalization of civilian infrastructure have been reported by our national and international partners on the ground.  We, along with our humanitarian partners, continue to call on the parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

More than 80 aid workers have received clearances to go to Tigray, but the permits are for short missions and for personnel returning to Tigray.  Authorizations for needs assessments missions are still pending with the authorities. 

Hundreds of thousands of people affected have not been reached, particularly in the rural areas of Tigray.

Despite the challenges, humanitarians on the ground are working to increase the response, with some progress made, especially on food assistance in the main cities.  In addition, more than 280,000 people received clean water, more than 35,000 refugees in Mai Ayni and Adi Harush camps are getting food assistance and more than 65,000 displaced people received shelter and critical household items. 

**Eastern Africa

The UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) and the World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for $266 million to end food ration cuts for over 3 million refugees in Eastern Africa.  Funding shortages have forced cuts of up to 60 per cent.  The UN agencies warned of growing risks including increased malnutrition, anaemia and stunted child growth. 

More information online. 

**Myanmar

And on Myanmar, I can tell you that our Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, continues her conversations with various parties regarding the current situation. 

She continues to stress the need for Member States to act collectively and in unity to help the people of Myanmar and safeguard their democratic aspirations. 

And keep your fingers crossed, if all goes well, we will have her as a guest tomorrow at noon.  She will be briefing from Bern, in Switzerland, I believe.

**Libya

A couple of more notes, if you allow me.  The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) today strongly encouraged the House of Representatives to meet as scheduled to discuss and consider the vote of confidence on the cabinet to be proposed by the Prime Minister-designate.  They encourage the Prime Minister-designate to present the line-up of the Government without further delay. 

This call comes in line with the increasing public demand for the urgent need to form a unified government to address the most pressing needs and facilitate the holding of national elections in December [2021]. 

The UN Mission is not in a position, they tell us, to comment on media reports circulating about alleged briberies during the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia.  The Panel of Experts who produced the report in which those allegations were cited is completely independent from UNSMIL and reports to the Security Council Sanctions Committee directly. 

**Ukraine

And I want to flag that on Ukraine, the first UN-organized humanitarian convoy with 133 tons of shelter materials and other relief items passed through Shchastia crossing point to the non-Government-controlled area of Luhanska oblast.  The Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, said that this was an achievement and congratulated all relevant parties for their assistance. 

She also stressed the importance of ensuring that humanitarian convoys continue to pass directly to the Donetsk region through the crossing point at Novotroitske.  This is only partially operational and has been temporarily closed to the passing of humanitarian convoys. 

With the growing needs of 3.4 million Ukrainians in the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Lubrani urged all concerned parties to ensure the unimpeded humanitarian aid delivery and access of humanitarian workers to people in need. 

**Technology

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is launching its “Technology and Innovation Report 2021:  Catching Technological Waves — Innovation with Equity”.  That will be tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.  The report focuses on frontier technologies and their impact on inequalities, in particular for countries already impacted by the digital divide.  You can find details if you tune in live on the UNCTAD website. 

**Financial Contributions

We are up to 63 Member States who have paid their budget dues in full.  And that is because Italy, Namibia and Nepal put their checks in the mail and we received them. 

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays, and then we’ll go to Ms. Lederer.

Question:  I warn you.  I’ve got a lot of questions today.  I will restrict…

Spokesman:  Okay…  Share with Edie, please.

Question:  I will restrict it to Myanmar first, if I can.  So…  and we did a long run‑through, and I know there’s a very complicated procedure and Credentials Committees in the GA (General Assembly) and whatever.  I’m aware of all… 

Spokesman:  So, you don’t want me to answer.

Question:  No, I do want to ask you, because there are two different letters.  There’s one from 28 February, which says that the…  from the Mission on the Mission’s headed paper with a Mission stamp, saying that the DPR (Deputy Permanent Representative) is now the acting Ambassador.  And then there’s another letter on the same headed notepaper signed by Kyaw Moe Tun, the PR (Permanent Representative) who gave the speech on Friday, saying he’s still the Ambassador.

Obviously, there’s a dispute here and, obviously, it will go through all the procedures.  But the Secretary‑General is in charge, for example, of the security in this building, and it seems you have a deputy ambassador and an ambassador who have different views; they both have UN passes.  So, the simple question is this.  Who does the Secretary‑General believes right now is the Ambassador of Myanmar?

Spokesman:  As always, your questions are direct.  The answer is not always that clear.  You’ve laid out the situation as it is.  So, I can confirm that we’ve received two letters.  They’re currently under review.  So, let me just give you a bit more detail. 

So, we did receive a letter yesterday from Kyaw Moe Tun, the Permanent Representative of Myanmar, which was addressed to the President of the General Assembly with copy to the Secretary‑General’s Office, informing that he remains Myanmar’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. 

We’ve also received a note verbale from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar this morning, which was addressed to the Secretary‑General’s Office, informing that the State Administration Council of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar has terminated the duties and responsibilities of Mr. Kyaw Moe Tun as Permanent Representative of Myanmar and that Mr. U Tin Maung Naing, Deputy Permanent Representative, has been assigned as the Chargé d’affaires ad interim of the Permanent Mission. 

Those are the facts.

Question:  But that doesn’t answer my simple practical question

Spokesman:  No, I understand

Question:  If there’s a GA meeting, is it who gets to the seat first currently, as they both have active UN passes?

Spokesman:  I think we are…  well, both can come into the building.  Who is recognized by the President of whichever meeting is going on, that will be an issue up for Member States. 

We are…  I mean, let’s be honest here.  We’re in a very unique situation we have not seen in a long time.  We are trying to sort through all the legal protocol and other implications.  And as soon as we have something more to share, we will share it with you.

Ms. Lederer is yielding…  yeah?  Hold on two seconds.

Correspondent:  Steph?  Can I just ask a quick follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Michelle, I’ll come right back to you, I promise.

Correspondent:  Let…  let… 

Spokesman:  All right.  You guys are all so nice to each other.  Edie has yielded to you, Michelle, and overruled my ruling.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thanks so much, Edie.  It’s a really quick one.  Can you just clarify, the letter you received this morning from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, does that also then make the Secretary‑General aware that there has been a change in power in Myanmar?

Spokesman:  No.  It is…  the letter that we’ve received is focused on the representation of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar here, and it was sent by the…  on letterhead from the Government of Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Question:  So, does that then go back to what you said yesterday about you haven’t been notified of any change in the Government…

Spokesman:  The only changes…  I mean the only letters we have received regard the representation of the…  of Myanmar here and nothing else.

Question:  And would that have to be signed by Aung San Suu Kyi or the President for you to accept it?

Spokesman:  I’m…  this will…  I’m not going to go into further speculation on the letters.

Edie?

Question:  My question seems so boring afterwards since James did Myanmar.  On this ongoing event in Dikwa in Nigeria, was anybody killed or injured?  Any idea who the perpetrators are? And were any of these humanitarian facilities UN facilities, or were these all NGO (non-governmental organization) facilities?

Spokesman:  They were sites managed by aid agencies.  My understanding, on the ground, a lot of those spaces are shared.  I am not aware of any casualties from the aid community and none from the…  as far as I know, from the UN community.  But as I said, the situation on the ground is still not completely clear in terms of the smoke still being there.

Question:  And going…  a follow‑up on Tigray.  You said that there are all of these, basically, possible atrocities, et cetera, going on.  There are UN people on the ground there now.  Is anybody actually doing or taking part in any kind of investigation of what’s happening?

Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of.  We have, as we said, a very limited international presence.  We have local…  some local staff.  Their focus right now is on providing aid and giving food.  As we said, we have not been able to reach all the areas we need to, especially those in the rural parts of the province.

Question:  And any reason that the Government has given for denying those visas?

Spokesman:  We’re not in…  let me put it this way.  I don’t think we’re in a situation of denial.  We’re in a situation of bureaucratic impediments and bureaucratic…  a slow bureaucratic process.  The authorization that’s been given for international staff has been basically for people who had been in Mekelle before.  We, obviously, need new staff and the assessment Mission as well.

Okay.  If you have a…  Toby?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My question is, do you have any additional information on how many candidates and prospective candidates there are now in the selection process for Secretary‑General?  Can you offer anything more?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No.  All that I know is my boss is a candidate, and I’ve heard what Brenden [Varma] has said to you earlier.  So, I have nothing else. 

Just to add, on Nigeria, Edie, the humanitarian hub was managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

Okay.  Philippe and then Maggie.

QuestionMerci, Stéphane.  I would like to know if the Special Envoy for Myanmar had a direct contact with the military — I think, I presume it’s the deputy chief of the army — since Friday, since the speech at the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware that she’s had a contact since Friday.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  Maggie and then Abdelhamid and then Joe.  Bless you.  Maggie?  The Voice of America has lost its voice.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Israel is distributing vaccine to Honduras, Hungary, Guatemala and Czech Republic in what they call vaccine diplomacy.  According to Article 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is responsible for the foodstuffs…  as I read it from the article, foodstuffs, medical supplies and clothing.  If that is not apartheid, then can you define what is apartheid?

Spokesman:  Listen, I’m not sure I heard a question there.  I don’t know…  I have no confirmation of any export by Israel of vaccines to other places.  I think we’ve talked here about the responsibilities of Israel vis‑à‑vis the Palestinian population, as under international law.  We’ve also talked about what’s worked, and we’ve talked about what’s not worked. 

Correspondent:  Steph?

Spokesman:  Joe Klein.  Oh, hold on…  Okay.  Go ahead, Maggie.

Question:  It’s Mag.  I got un‑muted.

Spokesman:  Okay.  No comment. 

Question:  Can I ask my question?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Yeah.

Question:  Okay.  First of all, on Myanmar, the Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General said the other day in the General Assembly that countries should not recognize the military takeover.  The Secretary‑General has been calling repeatedly for a reversal and return to the democratically elected Government.  So, is the Secretary‑General under any obligation to accept the letter from the military appointing a new representative when it goes against what he himself is calling for?

Spokesman:  The issue of recognition of Governments by Member States is one for Member States to decide on.  We…  as I told James, we’ve received two letters with contradictory, to put it simply, indications.  We’re taking a look at those letters, where they came from and what we will do and if…  and whether or not the Credentials Committee will also get involved.

Question:  But, Steph, until the Credentials Committee gets involved, does he have to take…  does he have to accept their new representative?  I mean, if the… 

Spokesman:  I fully understand your very valid and pertinent question.  As I said, we are taking a look at these letters and trying to resolve things as quickly as possible from our end.

Okay.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  Actually, Maggie asked my question, so I’m coming up with a new one on the spot.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  And it’s a…  it’s really a follow‑up on this issue…

Spokesman:  Joe…

Question:  Yeah?  What?  Hello?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Yeah, okay.  That’s better.  It sounded like you had a vacuum…  it sounds like you have a vacuum cleaner going on in the background.

Question:  No.  No, no vacuum cleaner here.  That I can assure you.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Just make it short and to the point. 

Question:  Short and to the point.  There’s a…  does the UN…  does the Secretary‑General and the UN itself as an establishment consider the Oslo Accord still in effect?

Spokesman:  We consider in effect all relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.  A number of those also, if I’m not mistaken, mentioned the Oslo Accords. 

One second.  Iftikhar, and then we’ll go back to James.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Obviously, the amount raised at the pledging conference for Yemen is inadequate, and the Secretary‑General has said so.  What are the next steps being planned to meet this grave situation?

Spokesman:  Well, we will continue…  I mean, there are two next steps.  Right?  I mean, we will, on the one hand, continue to try to mobilize funds.  I mean, these events…  these pledging conferences are kind of one‑day events to focus the world’s attention, but it’s not as if we’re not trying to mobilize funds on every other…  during every other day.  So, we are continuing to do that, whether it’s the Secretary‑General, whether it’s Mark Lowcock or other officials, WFP (World Food Programme), UNICEF, all the front‑line humanitarian agencies who are operating in Yemen.  They will continue to do that.

But it is clear that without further funding, there risks even greater cuts in the aid, and we’re seeing it in different places around the world, in East Africa, where UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) and WFP will have to cut food rations.  It’s a pretty simple fact.  If there is no more money coming in, then it makes it nearly impossible for aid to go out, and that’s why we’re forced to continue to mobilize for resources for all these emergencies. 

The other thing we keep doing, because that is part of the solution, is focusing on the political track to bring an immediate ceasefire to Yemen.

Okay.  James?

Question:  Yeah.  Obviously, the ongoing diplomacy in Myanmar is important.  There are talks of a new Security Council meeting.  There’s been a meeting in the last few hours of ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations), which calls on all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and I wanted to ask the Secretary‑General, does he really believe there are…  I mean, I know he’s not ASEAN, but does he, in his view, believe there are lots of parties in Myanmar?  Because it seems there are only the people of Myanmar, whose will has been subverted in a coup, and the military who carried out that coup.  It doesn’t seem like there are lots of parties to engage; there’s only one party to engage.  Does the Secretary‑General agree with that?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to comment on…  I mean, I don’t know…  I haven’t seen the ASEAN statement.  What is clear for us and what we’ve been seeing since the coup are people taking to the streets, expressing their views peacefully, and we have seen a harsh and unacceptable crackdown by security forces.  It’s not an equal fight.

Question:  The US Ambassador gave her briefing here 24 hours ago, and she said she was hopeful of a Security Council meeting soon.  There is word that there could be one this week.  So, a repeat of my question I asked you yesterday, what does the Secretary‑General want from the Security Council, and does he think that an arms embargo, individual designations of generals would be helpful now at this stage?

Spokesman:  Look, as I’ve mentioned, we want a strong message from the Security Council to the authorities in Myanmar to reverse course and to undo the coup, to put it simply.  The Security Council has at its disposal various tools, which they will have to decide how and when to use.  I think it is always very important that whatever, within those tools, that they…  it be done in a way that does not hurt the people.  Right?  I will leave it at that.

Question:  Changing subjects, your UNSMIL statement you read out earlier on, UNSMIL seemed to be sort of “we can’t comment on the Panel of Experts because we’re UNSMIL and they’re the Panel of Experts and they’re a different part of the UN”.  But that doesn’t get to the point.  UNSMIL supervised the election where there is allegations of corruption.  Is UNSMIL confident with the result of that election, or should there be a new election?

Spokesman:  Look, as I’ve said before, we stand against corruption, which is an obvious and basic statement to make but one that still needs to be made.  There is a process ongoing.  It still has to go through a number of vetting processes, including the House of Representatives, and it’s important that that process goes on with the most clarity and transparency as possible for the sake of the people of Libya.

Question:  Sorry.  That’s the process that was put in place, I understand, initially, but now there’s a…  potentially a big spanner in the works.  Is there a process underway to examine whether this election was legitimate and whether these figures are the legitimate leaders of Libya?

Spokesman:  We will continue to focus and support the political process, and we will continue to watch it very carefully.

Question:  I’m going to be greedy with one more, because it’s an important development in the last hour or so, which is Jalalabad — reports that three media workers have been shot dead at a TV station in eastern Af…  or leaving their work at a TV station in eastern Afghanistan.  The response of the UN?

Spokesman:  Any attack, any tar…  any attack and especially any targeted attacks which…  whose aim is to muzzle the media is to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. 

Okay.  Unless I see a wave, I will turn it over to…

Question:  Stéphane, this is Joe Klein.

Spokesman:  Yes, Joe.

Question:  I was just trying to follow up here.  I got cut off.  First of all, COVAX is indicating that they will be sending shortly vaccines to the Palestinian Authority.  I’d like to know whether they have been received and what the timetable is there to receive it. 

And can the Secretary‑General affirm and continue to affirm that Israel has cooperated with the transfer of vaccines ordered directly by the Palestinian Authority, for example, from Russia into Gaza and into the West Bank?

Spokesman:  Yes, we…  thank you.  Sorry.  The…  you’ll have to check your audio, Joe, because it’s…  there’s somebody doing some secret vacuuming in your apartment. 

Sorry.  To take it seriously, we have said and I’ve said here and we have said how much we have cor…  we have worked with the Palestinians on facilitating the transfer of medicine and technology to both Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian…  to the West Bank during COVID.  We’ve said it.  We also believe that there are obligations that Israel has under international law.  We will work with the Palestinian Authority in supporting their efforts to reach COVAX.

All right.  I will now leave it in Farhan’s hand and our guest, Elliott Harris.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.