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3 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.

Let’s go to our regular programming.

**Nigeria

I want to start with an update for you on Nigeria, from our humanitarian colleagues on the situation in Dikwa in Borno State.  Humanitarians are concerned about the situation of thousands of internally displaced people and civilians in the area following the recent attack we briefed you on yesterday.

Following intense attacks in Marte and surrounding areas since 14 February, nearly 3,400 displaced people, including more than 2,000 children, arrived in Dikwa.  It is estimated that there are more than 76,000 internally displaced people in the town of Dikwa, due to the ongoing conflict since 2009.

As of now and following ongoing military operations on the ground, we, along with our partners, are unable to assess further the humanitarian situation.

We reiterate our calls on all armed parties to immediately stop the violence and ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, humanitarian assets, as well as personnel.

**South Sudan

Back here in the Security Council, David Shearer addressed the Council for the last time as head of the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

He noted the first anniversary of the transitional Government, adding that despite some positive steps, progress has been slow.  There has been minimal progress on constitution-making, transitional justice, and economic reform, he said.

Mr. Shearer also pointed out that the unification of forces has yet to happen, despite multiple self-imposed Government deadlines.  As a result, thousands of troops are festering in cantonment sites without adequate shelter, health care or food.

Ending on a personal note, Mr. Shearer told Council members that at the end of his four years in South Sudan, he looks back with a certain level of comfort about how far the country has come.

There is a ceasefire, he said, a peace deal, a transitional Government, a presidency, a Council of Ministers, governors, and local leadership is slowly being installed.  However, the reality is that the peace process remains extremely fragile.  It is for those people that we, the international community, must remain united and committed to pushing the peace process forward, he said.  His remarks have been shared with you.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Africa

The Deputy Secretary-General took part yesterday in the first annual meeting of a group of UN entities called the Regional Collaborative Platform.

She said that Africa’s regional know-how, assets and policy expertise will be more systematically channelled to the resident coordinators and UN country teams across the continent as they help countries ensure an inclusive and sustainable transition out of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Regional Collaborative Platform brings together all UN entities working on development for the 2030 Agenda, addressing key challenges that transcend country borders — such as health and environment.  It is chaired by Amina Mohammed.

**COVID-19 — Schools

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), as you may have seen today, released a report showing that schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for an entire year due to lockdowns.

According to UNICEF, around 214 million children globally — or one in seven — have missed more than three quarters of their in-person learning.

UNICEF warns that the most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at an increased risk of never returning to the classroom, and even being forced into child marriage or child labour.

The full report is online.

**Africa — COVAX

Some good news from our UN teams on the African continent, who helped ensure today’s arrival of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility.

The vaccines have now arrived in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Gambia, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal.

More than a million doses arrived in Kenya today, transported by UNICEF.  The vaccine roll-out kicks off on Friday.

Rwanda received 340,000 doses today, with UN Resident Coordinator Fode Ndiaye hailing this historic moment as a big boost for hope and recovery.

Senegal:  320,000 doses today.  That will help authorities’ efforts to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population.

The DRC received more than 1.7 million doses of vaccines, with the UN team’s support.

In the Gambia, the first shipment of 36,000 doses of COVAX-backed vaccines arrived last night.  With the support of the UN team, the Government is preparing to kick start the vaccination with health-care workers, those with underlying medical conditions, and aged 65 years and above.

Also, yesterday, over 620,000 doses arrived in Angola with the UN’s support.  This will help cover an initial 10 per cent of the country’s first phase of vaccine needs.  The vaccination effort began yesterday with a 71-year-old lady receiving the first shot.

**International Women’s Day

Monday is International Women’s Day.

The theme this year is “Women in leadership:  Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world on the way to the Generation Equality Forum”.

In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that the pandemic has erased decades of progress towards gender equality.  He stresses that as we recover from the pandemic, support and stimulus packages must target women and girls specifically, including through investments in women-owned businesses and the care economy.  He adds that the pandemic recovery is our chance to leave behind generations of exclusion and inequalities.

UN-Women will be hosting a virtual event that day at 10 a.m. and the Secretary-General will take part.

A lot more information on UN-Women’s website.

**World Wildlife Day

Today is World Wildlife Day.  This year’s theme is “Forests and Livelihoods:  Sustaining People and Planet”.  The planet’s forests are home to some 80 per cent of all terrestrial wild species.  Forests help regulate the climate and support the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

In his message, the Secretary-General says that the unsustainable exploitation of forests harms communities and contributes to biodiversity loss and climate disruption.  He urges Governments, businesses and people everywhere to scale up efforts to conserve forests and forest species, to support and to listen to the voices of forest communities.  In doing so, we will help and contribute to achieving the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) for planet and people.

Today is also a very important day, although it is not an international day.  It is James Bays’ birthday, I’m told.  We’re working on a GA resolution about that.  I won’t say how old you are, James.  But I will just say I don’t think you’re old enough to qualify for the vaccine in New York yet.  Age-wise, that is.  [laughter]

**Slavery

Our colleagues at the Department of Global Communications are organizing a series of events throughout the month, ahead of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  The Day will be marked on 25 March.

Tomorrow, there will be an online discussion titled “Return to the Root:  Exploring Racism through Dance”.  The event is organized with Lehigh University and will explore the themes of systemic racism, the legacy of slavery throughout the African diaspora populations and how we can participate in the conversation globally through multiple art forms.

More information and links are available at un.org.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

Tomorrow, our guest will be Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham.  He will join us to discuss his recent visit to Burkina Faso.

**Libya

And I have an update on a question you have been asking me quite a bit about, which is Libya.  I can confirm that the UN deployed a small advance team to Libya.  The team arrived overnight.

The advance team will help advance UN planning, in close consultation with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, and provide the foundation for scalable UN support to the Libyan-led and Libyan-owned Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism (LCMM).  The team will also prepare inputs for the report that was requested of the Secretary-General by the Security Council.

The advance team will report its findings to the Special Envoy through the UN’s Mission Coordinator.

Meanwhile, over the course of the past few days, the Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, has continued his efforts to mobilize regional and international support to the Libyan-owned, Libyan-led dialogue process.  The Special Envoy paid visits to Italy and Turkey and met, among others, with the foreign ministers of those two countries.

**Financial Contributions

And we are delighted to report that we are at 65 Member States fully paid up.  Our thanks go to Algeria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

**Questions and Answers

James, it’s your birthday.  No one will deny you a question today.

Question:  I don’t have to ask about Libya, because just talked about it.

So, Myanmar, as you’ll be aware now, the Deputy Ambassador has, on Facebook, posted that he’s resigned his post.  This is the Deputy PR (Permanent Representative) who was named by the military in their communications with the UN as chargé.  Have you had any communication from either the military or from the Mission that he is now no longer chargé, because he’s re… from their view… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No.  All that we’ve seen is what we’ve seen on Facebook and reported in the media.  So, we’re aware that U Tin Maung Naing, the DPR, resigned but no official communication.

Just… the process that I alluded to yesterday has moved a little bit.  So, following the receipt in the past few days from Kyaw Moe Tun, the Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the UN, and then the other letter I alluded to from the Foreign Ministry, they have been shared… referred to the Chair of the Credentials Committee, the Permanent Representative of [the United Republic of] Tanzania.  Upon request of the chair, those communications have now also been circulated to all the members of the Credentials Committee.

Question:  And one… I know it’s my birthday, but I’m still going to complain about something.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  It wouldn’t be your birthday if you weren’t complaining about something.

Question:  Sorry.

Spokesman:  No, that’s okay.

Question:  A very important story from UNICEF and an important exhibit in the garden, I can’t understand why — and the Secretary‑General even visited — why the press were not invited.  I mean, it’s not… I mean, I understand COVID, but it’s in the garden.  I can’t see why we… if you wanted the power of that why you would not invite us to cover it.  I’m not the only one.  I know Toby had a crew, wanted to go and cover it as well.  It’s barking mad.

Spokesman:  Well, the bark has been received.  [laughter]

Edie and then we’ll…

Question:  Another follow‑up on Myanmar.  Can… we heard what Special Envoy [Christine] Schraner Burgener is doing.  What has the Secretary‑General himself been doing on Myanmar?  Has he tried to talk to any of the generals?  Has he been talking to leaders in the region?

Spokesman:  Yes, so, he has been spending… over the last week or so, spending quite a bit of time on the phone speaking to members of… focusing on members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), including the current presidency of ASEAN, which is Brunei.  And he has spoken, also since the coup, to permanent representatives and foreign ministers from Member States who have had… who are interested… who have shown interest in this and, obviously, members of the Security Council.

So, his focus has really been on trying to unite the international community to speak with one voice on this issue and to overturn, obviously, the actions by the military and restore democracy.

Question:  And a follow‑up on the advance team in Libya.  Are they… do you know if they’re planning to travel?  Because in the Secretary‑General’s announcement, I believe that he thought that they should be based in Sirte.  Are they planning to travel from Tripoli?  And how long are they planning to stay?

Spokesman:  For… I mean, for… two challenges in terms of the amount of information we can share.  The first and foremost is the security of this team.  They will go where they need to go given the security and COVID constraints.  I think right now, they’ve just landed.  They will do whatever they need to do to present a strong and clear assessment to the Mission leadership and then on to the Secretary‑General.

Yes, go ahead and then Sylviane.  [cross talk]

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions on Iraq.  The first one, last night, the… 10 rockets slammed a military base that’s housing US forces.  A contractor passed away.  Any reaction to this attack?  Just… less than a week after the US rocket attacks in Syria, and it comes two days before Pope Francis visits Iraq.

Spokesman:  Of course.  Yes, obviously, the Secretary‑General is following the developments in Iraq, including the rocket attack, very [closely].  He remains very concerned about the volatile situation in that region, and I think it’s important for all sides to exercise restraint, avoid any escalation, which would undermine the ongoing diplomatic efforts at finding peace and lowering the tensions in that region.

And we, of course, all very much hope for a successful and safe visit of the pontiff to Iraq.

Question:  And, again, on Iraq, about the sides lowering tension, one side is… you don’t hear the name of is Iran.  And today, the Kurdistan Regional Government published confession of people who conducted the attacks two weeks ago in Erbil, and they say we got the rockets from Iran… and I want to finish my question.  And the Iranian militias told us to do this attack.  This is the first time, basically, what the Iraqi authorities say — concrete evidence comes out of Iran’s involvement.  Why not naming Iran?

Spokesman:  Look, there are a lot of parties that need to hear this message of de‑escalation.  It includes various armed groups operating in Iraq outside of the control of the State.  And obviously, Powers, both regionally and internationally, all need to work towards the de‑escalation.

Sorry.  Célhia and then Toby.

Question:  Stéphane, could we have an update on the stages of the investigation in… [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Sure.  The work… the UN’s teams’ work is ongoing.  Our colleagues in DSS (Department of Safety and Security) are doing a review of the security.  And obviously, we are at the disposal and are working closely with both the Congolese and the Italian authorities in their criminal investigations.  I will share with you the name… the contact for my colleague Greg Barrow at WFP (World Food Programme), who is speaking for the UN on the investigation.

Tobias?

Question:  Thank you.  That is my full name.  My question is, now that there’s a UN team on the ground in Libya, is that an indication that foreign fighters have left or are leaving?  Is that a positive indication of that?  And I have a second question on Tigray.

Spokesman:  No, I think there… let me just say, we were not waiting for all foreign fighters to leave Libya to send the advance team, so this is… the arrival of this advance team overnight is an operational issue.  We’re trying to operationalize the request of the Security Council.  They will be there to assess the situation and how we can best support what is a Libyan institution, which is the ceasefire monitoring commission.

Your other question?

Question:  And just an update on access for humanitarian efforts in Tigray.

Spokesman:  Nothing major… no positive major developments to report.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Stéphane…

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to take you back to 2019 when the former Commissioner‑General of the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) was accused of misbehaviour, mismanagement and nepotism, etc.  I mean, there was a report that told that he was innocent.  And I quote Mr. [Pierre] Krähenbühl, because he said in recent interview, he said, “The Secretary‑General called me in November 2019 to let it be known that the charge of corruption and mismanagement and my relations with a key member of the staff had all been proper.”

So, in this interview, there are two questions that I want to ask you.  I ask these two question, not on behalf of him but as a journalist.  First, will there be an official apology issued from the UN to Mr. Krähenbühl?  Second, why the report has not been published so far?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I’m looking for my notes on this.  What I can, first of all, tell you is that the report by OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) will be shared… the report by OIOS, which is an internal procedure, has been shared… is being shared at the request of Member States, and that’s the usual procedure.  But I will answer your question in writing in a little bit… in a moment.

[The Spokesman later shared the following:  I can say that the five investigation reports concerning senior managers raised issues that were to be addressed through the Secretariat or UNRWA accountability frameworks.  Accountability actions to the extent appropriate and available were taken and the matters are closed.  It can be confirmed that the findings of the reports were management related that did not rise to the level of fraud or misappropriation of funds.

In accordance with General Assembly resolution 59/272 from 2010, the OIOS investigation reports relating to former UNRWA management have been provided to Member States that requested them by the UN OIOS.  Member States that have not to date requested such information from OIOS may do so now and in the future.

For further information on the availability of OIOS reports, please refer to https://oios.un.org/content/reporting.]

Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  You mentioned earlier that the Secretary‑General had spoken to ASEAN and other countries on Myanmar.  Has he also asked India and China to use their influence on that country and the military?

Spokesman:  He has spoken to a number of regional countries and asked them to do whatever they can do to help correct the situation and support the Myanmar people’s call for a return to democracy.

Okay.  I will leave it at that and leave you in Brenden’s good hands.  Give me two seconds to liberate this podium, Brenden [Varma].

For information media. Not an official record.