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22 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right, everyone.  Let’s get started.

**Yemen

First off, I’ve been getting a number of questions and I can say we welcome today’s announcement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of its intention to undertake a number of measures to help end the conflict in Yemen, which align with the UN’s initiative.  We also welcome Saudi support for UN efforts.  Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has been working to secure a nationwide ceasefire, the re-opening of Sana’a Airport to civilian air traffic, allowing additional fuel and commodities to enter Hudaydah Port and resuming a political process to end the conflict.  There is no doubt that every effort must be made to end the conflict in Yemen and address the suffering of the Yemeni people and the United Nations looks forward to continuing its work with the parties to achieve this goal.  Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, visited Marib in the weekend to see first-hand the growing humanitarian impact of renewed hostilities in the governorate.  During his visit, Mr. Gressly met with local authorities, including the Governor of Marib, and with humanitarian partners working on the ground.  He also visited two displacement sites, where he met with internally displaced people and community members.  Up to 15,000 people have been displaced in Marib since fighting escalated in early February.  Many of them live in extremely precarious conditions.

**Niger

I was asked about weekend attacks in Niger, and I can say that the Secretary-General strongly condemns the despicable attacks conducted on 21 March by unidentified gunmen in the Tahoua region of the Republic of Niger, which reportedly killed at least 60 civilians.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a swift recovery to the injured.  The Secretary‑General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to sustain support to Niger in its efforts to counter and prevent terrorism and promote social cohesion.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the ongoing conflict in Tigray continues to drive massive displacement across the region.  Tens of thousands of people have arrived into Shire, Axum and Adwa in the last couple of weeks, most of them fleeing fighting in Western Tigray.  There are also reports of people uprooted by violence in North Western and Central Zones.  According to our humanitarian colleagues, people arriving in towns from the rural zones of Tigray are visibly malnourished and in desperate need of life-saving support, after enduring four and half months of conflict with little access to vital supplies.  Despite challenges, aid workers are scaling up the response and have assisted more than 1 million people with complete food baskets.  Nearly 140,000 newly displaced people received emergency shelter and vital relief items and more than 630,000 people received clean water.  The new notification process established by the Government for movement of cargo and workers has enabled humanitarian partners to increase their presence and operations in Tigray.  However, the humanitarian situation is extremely dire and continues to deteriorate.  We urgently need more funding to make sure we can urgently assist people impacted by the conflict.

**Syria

Now, turning to Syria, we are deeply concerned about ongoing hostilities in the last days and their impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure.  In a flare-up of hostilities in north-west Syria over the weekend, at least 30 communities were affected by artillery shelling and air strikes.  Yesterday, several civilians were killed and injured as a result of artillery shelling in Al Atareb town and Aleppo city.  In Aleppo city, artillery shelling caused 17 civilian casualities, including 2 children.  Attacks on hospitals have seriously impeded access to healthcare, as many impacted medical facilities have been forced to go out of service, depriving the vulnerable civilian population of life-saving care.  International humanitarian law prohibits directing attacks against civilians or civilian objects, including health facilities.  All parties must take all feasible precautions to avoid or at least minimize civilian harm.

**Turkey

You will have seen that, over the weekend, UN‑Women issued a statement on Turkey’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention.  UN‑Women urged Turkey to reconsider its withdrawal and added that this action comes at a point when concerted international action and commitment to end violence against women and girls is more important than ever.  UN‑Women also urged the Turkish Government to continue protecting and promoting the safety and rights of all women and girls.  As you know, violence against women has been a central priority for the Secretary-General.  It is important to maintain the solidarity of nations in dealing with this problem.  Accordingly, the Secretary‑General appeals to Turkey to review this decision.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, the UN country team remains deeply concerned over the continued loss of life following the military takeover of the Government on 1 February.  At least 224 civilians have been killed at the hands of security forces, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), including while in custody.  We believe the real figure could be more than 250.  Hundreds more people, including women and children, have been injured.  Our colleagues continue to call on the military to halt the use of force against peaceful protestors.  The team is also very concerned over further efforts to undermine freedom of expression, with increased pressure on independent media outlets.  To date, at least 40 journalists have been arrested.

**Central African Republic

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) welcomes and supports a dialogue initiative announced by the President last week.  On 18 March, President [Faustin-Archange] Touadera announced the launch of a “republican dialogue” amongst national stakeholders to unite the country and revitalize the peace process, following election-related violence.  In that context, the Mission will continue to work in close coordination with international partners to advance peace and stability in the country.  The Mission is also telling us about an incident that happened on Saturday, in Bria, in the Haute-Kotto Prefecture.  Combatants belonging to the FPRC/UPC armed groups opened fire on a peacekeeping patrol that was crossing the Kotto River on a ferry.  Peacekeepers returned fire and safely crossed the river, continuing their patrolling to ensure protection of civilians.  No casualties were reported.

**United Nations/IE University

The United Nations and IE University have signed an agreement to join forces and leverage new innovative and technological solutions for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  The agreement considers several areas of collaboration, including the development of learning platforms and knowledge products, the provision of executive training and advisory services, and the promotion of social entrepreneurship.  The aim is to create a new space where practitioners, academia, governments, companies, entrepreneurs, investors, civil society and other stakeholders can work together to address complex problems in an innovative way and promote more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies.

**COVAX

I have a COVAX update for you.  Yesterday, Bolivia received more than 220,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility.  Health workers and other people at risk will receive the initial doses in this first batch.  Nearly 900,000 more doses are expected to arrive by the end of May.  The UN team welcomed the arrival of the vaccines.  It says that equitable distribution is possible, even in hard-to-access areas, despite the complex logistics involved, including the cold chain supply requirements.  The Lao People’s Democratic Republic received its first shipment of more than 130,000 doses from COVAX on Saturday.  This is the first batch of a total of 480,000 doses which will arrive in the country this year to vaccinate around 20 per cent of the population.  The national vaccination plan prioritizes people at risk and vulnerable people, including front‑line health‑care workers and people above the age of 60.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also delivered 84,000 syringes, 840 safety boxes and other supplies to allow authorities to begin vaccinating people.

**Water Day

Today is World Water Day.  This year’s theme is “Valuing water”.  In his message, the Secretary-General said there is no aspect of sustainable development that does not fundamentally rely on water.  He warned that we are not on track to ensure everyone has access to water and sanitation by 2030, and that, while advances are being made, current progress needs to quadruple to achieve this goal.  The Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the statement signed by some 160 countries during the UN high-level meeting on water last week, showing strong commitment to advancing all water-related aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  He encouraged countries to intensify efforts to truly value water so all may have equitable access to this most precious resource.

**Financial Contribution

And finally, we would like to thank our friends in Tunisia for paying their regular budget dues in full, which brings us to a total of 74 Member States who have paid in full.  And that is it from my notes.  And now let me turn to you for your questions. First off, I believe James Reinl has a question, and then we'll go to Edie in the room.  James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks so much, Farhan.  It's a question on the statement that you read out at the very beginning about Saudi Arabia's new effort to end the war in Yemen.  You said the word "align." The Saudis kind of sold it as a joint Saudi‑UN negotiating effort.  Which is more correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think I'll stick with what we've said, which is that this is something that is aligned with our efforts.  You will have seen that the points that were made in the announcement today closely track with what Martin Griffiths said in the Security Council last week.  You saw the points that Mr. Griffiths made about the need for a ceasefire, the need for opening up the Sana'a airport, for fuel and other deliveries to the port of Hudaydah.  And this is in keeping with what he said at that point.  And so, we believe it's aligned closely with the efforts we're making.

Question:  A quick follow‑up…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Edie?  I'm sorry.

Question:  Can I do a quick follow‑up, yeah?  The Houthis have already said that there's nothing new in this, and it doesn't seem to be a basis for negotiation for them.  Do you have any response to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we'll see what can happen.  Mr. Griffiths, as you know, has been working extensively with the parties to see what can be done to bring them together on the sort of proposals that he made at the Security Council, and he will keep with that.  So, he will be in touch with the Houthis, as with all parties, to see whether we can go further on this.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  A couple of follow‑ups, the first on Yemen also.  Where is Mr. Griffiths?  And is he planning to visit the region in light of this announcement and try and make it work?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll see whether he can do that.  Mr. Griffiths, in terms of where he's been, he's been working the phones with the parties.  And in recent days… I don't have any travel today to announce, but he has been in touch with the various parties and with the players in the region trying to do what he can, as he mentioned in the Council, to bolster the priorities that he has.

Question:  I hope you'll keep us updated on that.  On Tigray, you said at the end that a lot more money is needed for the humanitarian crisis there.  How much money are we talking about?

Deputy Spokesman:  On Tigray?  Wait.  Hold on one second.  Let me just check the latest figures.  I'll need to get some… I'll need to get the Tigray numbers for you.  I don't have that available at hand.  But, let's see whether one of my colleagues can get that before this briefing is done.  So…  Okay.  Yeah.  Go ahead, Edie.

Question:  I had one other question.  My question is, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the death of the leading opposition candidate in the Republic of Congo from COVID on the day of the election, Guy‑Brice Parfait Kolélas?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Yeah.  What I can say about that is that the Secretary‑General has been following the presidential elections in the Republic of the Congo on 21 March.  The Secretary‑General expresses his condolences to the family of presidential candidate Guy‑Brice Parfait Kolélas, who died last night, as well as to the Government and the people of the Republic of the Congo.  As communicated in a statement of 19 March, the Secretary‑General calls on all stakeholders to work towards a peaceful electoral process.  And Edie, you're in luck.  My colleagues are very on the ball on this, so I can also say, on the Tigray funds for Ethiopia, that we need $1.3 billion, and the funding to date is $738.8 million.  So, to repeat, we want $1.3 billion for Ethiopia, and we have received $738.8 million for that.  And with that, let me turn to Maggie from VOA.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the Yemeni ceasefire proposal, it would require UN monitors to monitor the ceasefire.  So, is the UN ready to roll that out?  And how many ceasefire… how many monitors would you be considering supplying the Mission with?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're studying this proposal, and we're going to see what kind of agreement we can get on this.  So, right now, it's still early days.  We have this announcement made.  We appreciate it.  I've told you the work that we've already been doing to try and move forward on our… on Mr. Griffiths' various proposals, and we'll see where we can go on that.  But, I don't have any specifics on monitors to provide at this stage.  Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  Farhan, I have one more follow‑up, Farhan.

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.  One more.  Yeah.

Question:  Sorry.  And what role did… has… has the UN had any role in conveying this offer to the Houthis, or is it strictly Saudi Arabia conveying it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I said, Mr. Griffiths will now see what he can do to move forward on the sort of priorities he's had following this announcement by the Saudis.  So, he will follow up with all the parties, including with Ansar Allah.  Okay.  Abdelhamid and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two questions on major developments in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Probably you mentioned that last week.  I missed the briefings last… all last week.  So, the Israeli court decided to expel five Palestinian families from the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  That will bring, I mean, almost a total control of this neighbourhood, which is a Palestinian neighbourhood.  And these houses will be granted to settlers.  So, is there a statement?  Is there a follow‑up on this major development?  And the second, which is related, also Israel decided to take a neighbourhood in the city of Silwan, adjacent of Jerusalem, to build a biblical park… a biblical park, in a Palestinian neighbourhood.  So, I don't hear any statement.  I don't hear the UN saying anything except those repeatedly statement in the monthly briefing.  But, these are major developments.  Why there's no clear‑cut statement from the Special Representative?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Special [Coordinator] is following up, and of course, you're aware of our continuing concerns at any efforts to change the demographic composition of these areas.  We've made those very clear, and he will continue to make his concerns clear, both with the parties on the ground and with the Security Council.  But, certainly, we are concerned about the developments you've mentioned, and we will continue to follow up, including, like I said, with the Security Council.  Evelyn?

Question:  That is more of an ethnic cleansing rather than just even as colonisation.  It's more than that, expelling Palestinian people from their homes.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll leave you to your opinion, but certainly, we're also expressing our own concerns on this matter.  Evelyn?

Question:  It’s nice to see you again.  Excuse me.  On that horrific bombing of medical facilities in Aleppo in Syria, who did it?  Some reports say it is the Syrian Government, Mis… President [Bashar al-]Assad's army.  If so, has the Secretary‑General made any representations to them?

Deputy Spokesman:  We certainly believe that this needs to be followed up by all the various authorities.  We are not in a position to attribute responsibility, but certainly, we want all these attacks to stop.  And again, all of these are violations of international humanitarian law.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Following the announcement of the new personal representative of the Secretary‑General on Afghanistan, we haven't heard anything about him, whether he has assumed his duties, and what are his plans?

Deputy Spokesman:  He is just beginning his work.  So, we'll be able to provide more detail once Mr. [Jean] Arnault's work has formally begun.  We only just named him, and we'll provide details as he begins his work negotiating with the parties.  And with that, I bid you all a good afternoon.  We'll see you tomorrow.  Take care, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.