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21 April 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.

I want to update you on some travel by various people, on some meetings, things you have been asking about.

**Cyprus

I just wanted to update you on the Secretary-General’s own travels.  He will go to Geneva for the informal 5+1 meeting on the Cyprus issue, which will be held from 27 to 29 April.  As we told you on 24 February, he is convening this informal meeting following consultations conducted on his behalf by a senior UN official, Jane Holl Lute.  Those consultations were being done over the past several months.  The purpose of the meeting, as we said at the time, will be to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution to the Cyprus issue within a foreseeable horizon.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan, in a joint statement, the co-conveners of the Istanbul conference on the Afghanistan peace process said that in view of the recent developments, and after extensive consultations with the parties, it has been agreed to postpone the conference to a later date when conditions for making meaningful progress would be more favourable.  The statement notes that Turkey, Qatar and the United Nations had planned to co-convene a high-level conference in Istanbul, from 24 April to 4 May, with the participation of the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban.  The aim was to add momentum to the negotiations that started in Doha in September 2020 to achieve a just and lasting peace in Afghanistan.  The statement stresses that Turkey, Qatar and the UN will resolutely continue their earnest efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, the Secretary-General welcomes the convening of the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders' Meeting on 24 April, which is set to discuss the current situation in Myanmar.  As the Secretary-General highlighted in his remarks to the Security Council this week, he continues to appeal for a resolute international response grounded on a unified effort.  He urges ASEAN leaders to help prevent an escalation of the crisis and possible grave humanitarian implications beyond Myanmar's borders.  The UN will remain a vital partner of ASEAN and will lend its full support to its efforts on Myanmar.  The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, remains in the region and will be in Jakarta to engage ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of Saturday’s meeting, focusing on a political solution.

Also on Myanmar, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in the country today said that the rights of women and girls in Myanmar, including their right to live a life free from violence and intimidation, must be upheld at all times.  The agency stressed that military and security forces must refrain at all times from all forms of violence against women, girls and young people.  Perpetrators must be held accountable.  As of Monday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that at least 741 women, and children and men have been killed since 1 February.  This includes 52 children.

**Climate

I also want to flag that, tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be taking part in the Climate Summit organized by the United States President, Joseph R. Biden.  We will be sharing his remarks with you under embargo later today.  And in related news, today, the Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, Mark Carney, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Climate Champions and the COP26 (twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties) Presidency launched the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero.  The Alliance unites over 160 firms from new and existing initiatives, including the NetZero Asset Managers and Asset Owners Alliances, to accelerate the transition to net‑zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.  More information on the interweb.

**Oceans

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke, by pre-recorded video message, at the launch of the second World Oceans Assessment.  He said that we must transform our relationship with the ocean, the life support system of our planet.  The findings by scientists are alarming, he said, adding that the second Assessment warns that many benefits that the ocean provides to humankind are increasingly being undermined by our own actions.  He urged countries to heed this warning and to work together through joint research, capacity development and the sharing of data, information and technology to sustain and manage our oceans.  Together, we can foster not only a green — but also a blue — recovery from the pandemic and also help ensure a long term resilient and sustainable relationship with the ocean.

**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Quick update on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, following yesterday’s briefing.  In response to the Government’s request for international assistance, and in coordination with the UN Resident Coordinator’s office and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, a 13-person joint environment mission from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is deploying to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  The team, which should be deployed for three weeks, is made up of six environmental specialists, with expertise in geology, ash management, environmental pollution, ecology and green response.  Other team members will assist with liaison, team management and logistics.  Plans are also under way to dispatch additional experts to Barbados to work closely with the team deployed in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  The UN presence is growing gradually in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but access remains difficult requiring support from military aircraft and other types of vessels.

**Ethiopia

Moving on to Ethiopia:  Our colleagues are telling us that, while there have been some recent improvements in the humanitarian access in Tigray, the situation in the region remains alarming, with active conflict in some areas restricting humanitarian movement and response.  Last week, insecurity in the Adigrat area, in Tigray’s east zone, reportedly impacted the movement of more than 20 relief trucks.  We are also concerned about worsening food insecurity if conflict continues and disrupts the next planting season, which is coming up.  Despite challenges, humanitarian partners are scaling up the response.  So far, more than 1.5 million people have received double allocations of food rations in 12 targeted districts and nearly 246,000 people have been supplied with emergency shelter and non-food items.  We urgently need more funding and safer, unimpeded access to scale up the humanitarian response to help all impacted people.  An estimated 4.5 million people need lifesaving assistance in Tigray.  These estimates are according to the Tigray interim administration.

**Libya

Yesterday, as you may have seen, the Secretary-General met virtually with counterparts in the African Union, European Union and the League of Arab States, gathering as the Libya Quartet.  The Quartet, in a communiqué issued afterward, expressed its full support for the efforts of the Presidency Council, the Government of National Unity and other unified national institutions to implement the Libya Political Dialogue Forum Road Map and successfully complete Libya’s democratic transition.  The Quartet condemned the continuing violations of the UN arms embargo and emphasized that all external military intervention in Libya is unacceptable.  They called in this regard for full compliance with the arms embargo and the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the entirety of Libya’s territory.  That statement was shared with you.

**Côte d’Ivoire

I was asked outside of the room about an attack in Côte d’Ivoire that took place earlier today.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General notes with concern the attack perpetrated by unknown individuals against an Ivorian military base in Abidjan in the early hours of 21 April, of today.  He condemns the attack, as well as any attacks against state institutions.

**COVAX

And a quick COVAX daily update for you:  UN teams are supporting vaccination efforts across the Pacific.  Fiji received its second batch of 24,000 vaccines just two days ago, with more on the way.  Samoa has kicked off its vaccination campaign, with the country’s Prime Minister receiving his first dose.  Samoa received 24,000 doses through COVAX earlier this month.  Moving on to the African continent, earlier this week, the Democratic Republic of the Congo kicked off its vaccination campaign, beginning with high priority groups.  The country received more than 1.7 million doses of the vaccine last month.  The UN team in the country is supporting authorities with vaccinations and addressing the wider impacts of the pandemic.  As of today, nearly 41 million doses have been shipped to 118 countries and territories through the COVAX Facility.  WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and others are helping with the logistics.

**World Creativity and Innovation Day

Today of all days is World Creativity and World Innovation Day.  They are one and the same.  The day aims to raise awareness of the role that creativity and innovation play in all aspects of human development.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stresses that cultural and creative industries should be part of economic growth strategies.  UNESCO notes that these industries are among the most dynamic sectors in the world economy, generating $2.25 billion in revenue and 29.5 million jobs worldwide.  I will now turn to you.  Let's be creative.  Betul?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two questions, Steph, one on the Cyprus dispute.  We know that these talks in Geneva will not be negotiations, and the SG wants to see if there is a common ground.  But, does he have any message for the parties?  And the second question will be on Libya.  Can you clarify if the ceasefire mechanism will be monitoring the withdrawal of foreign fighters?  And what nations, countries, will be sending monitors?

Spokesman:  On the ceasefire monitors, we're working on the deployment and the full recruitment of the 60 that were authorized.  As soon as we have more details, we will go, but they will… as per usual, deployment of UN monitors or people of that sort, they will come from different countries, but they will be operating under a UN umbrella, not their own national umbrella.  Their focus will be on the ceasefire monitoring.  We will report back as we get information on the withdrawal of mercenaries and other armed forces, but that is not the focus of the work of these monitors.  On Cyprus, I think what the Secretary‑General is… he will be… I mean, the aim, as I said, is to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution.  We will… we hope that the parties come with creativity to this very informal meeting.

Question:  Can I just follow up on Libya?  Will there be any monitors from the countries involved in the conflict, or there won't be any?

Spokesman:  It's a very good question.  The monitors will come from different countries and, again, will operate as UN officials under the Charter, under Article 100, and so forth.  Célhia and then Mr. Bays.

Question:  Stéphane, did the… will the Secretary‑General talk with Mahamat Idriss Déby, with the son of the late President, and who took over the Presidency in Chad?  And is the UN concerned about the future of Barkhane after the death of the President?

Spokesman:  The future of Operation Barkhane in Mali?

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Sorry.  Yeah, he was one of the most faithful help to friends in Barkhane.

Spokesman:  I mean, listen, Operation Barkhane is a French operation.  we are… I'm not aware of any… I mean, there've been no contacts at this point between the Secretary‑General and the authorities in Chad.  Yeah, the… the authorities, I mean the present authorities, new… the authorities.  The Secretary‑General is, obviously, to put it mildly, following the situation there very closely.  Our commitment to stand with the Chadian people and their efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous future is unwavering.  As I had mentioned, he had been consulting with the African Union, but at this point, we're also just watching the situation on the ground and see how it evolves.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  You told us there was quite a large presence in Chad of the UN.  I don't know who the senior person is on the ground.  Is it the Resident Coordinator, or is there someone else who's in charge?  But, either way, they are, obviously, reporting back to whoever here, the Secretary‑General or others.  What is the… what is the UN's picture of the current situation on the ground, as you have such a good footprint there, and you can hopefully give us a picture?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, our footprint on the ground is a humanitarian and development footprint.  It is not a political mission.  The Resident Coordinator is the senior-most person on the ground.  I'm not going to tell you that we have any more particular insight that has been reported.  We remain in contacts with the relevant actors, but I don't have any insights to share with you at this point.  Our work… our colleagues are continuing their critical humanitarian work, life‑saving activities, including around the Lake Province, which, as you know, hosted a large number of people who have been displaced because of Boko Haram activity.  And to give you a picture, also, of the humanitarian situation in Chad, Chad hosts almost half a million refugees, so UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is there; other UN agencies are there.  And internally, there are more than 360,000 internally displaced people.  So, our focus is on ensuring that whatever's happening on the political front, our humanitarian work continues.

Question:  And one on Afghanistan, if I can.  The postponement of the peace conference in Istanbul, clearly, the major reason is that the Taliban are currently not going to show up.  There are many commentators who say that is because the Taliban may well now consider that, with the [United States] leaving, they can wait things out and win on the battlefield rather than having to negotiate with the Afghan Government.  Given that and given the Taliban are the stumbling block right now, what is the Secretary‑General's message to the Taliban about why they should come to talks?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the Secretary‑General's message to all the parties is to engage in fruitful negotiations for the sake of the people of Afghanistan.  We will continue to do whatever we can to support the intra‑Afghan negotiations.  Okay.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, please.  First, President of Syria, Bashar al‑Assad, stated that he's going to run the President elections this year.  Any comments on this?  How will that affect the process of conflict resolution in Syria?  And the second question, the President of Ukraine, Mr. [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy, said he's had a conversation with the SG.  What did they discuss?  Did the SG make any calls, appeals to him?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I will take them in the order they were received.  On Syria, we've, obviously, seen the announcement that a presidential election will be held on 26 May.  These elections have been called under the auspices of the current Constitution, and they are not part of the political process established under resolution 2254 (2015).  We're not involved in these elections.  We have no mandate to be.  For our part, we will continue to stress the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria.  You should note and you know that resolution 2254 (2015) mandates the UN to facilitate a political process that culminates in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with the new Constitution, administered under UN supervision to the highest international standards, and that are inclusive of all Syrians, including members of the diaspora.  Your other question was on Ukraine.  Yes, the Secretary‑General did speak to President Zelenskyy today.  I spoke to the Secretary‑General about it a short while ago.  He told me that they spoke about the fight against COVID‑19 and the need for greater vaccination capacity in Ukraine.  They also talked about the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine.  The Secretary‑General, for his part, reiterated the UN's concern with the repeated violations of the ceasefire and the need to avoid all forms of escalation.  He also repeated his support for the ongoing efforts towards the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, under the Normandy Format, and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]‑supported Trilateral Contact Group, as well as with regards to the work of the Special Monitoring Mission.  Okay.  Let's go to… oh… yes, go ahead.

Question:  This may be somewhat out of date, but it just came to my attention recently that, earlier on, Kyiv had been cutting off the water supply to the Crimea and then permitted water, only a few hours per day.  Do you know what the current situation is?

Spokesman:  I do not, but we can try to check.  Okay.  Tobias Burns and then Ibtisam and then Jennifer.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thanks very much.  Ahead of this big summit this week, I'm wondering if the UN has received any information of nationally determined contributions from any of the countries participating.  And what the specifically is the Secretary‑General hoping will come out of the meetings this week?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, what he is hoping is for a clear example of… for… of the nations gathered for new, bold, real commitments, especially on Nationally Determined Contributions.  I mean, we're seeing the continuing worsening impact of climate change.  I mean, I think the Secretary‑General was very clear in what he said at the press conference on Monday and just to reiterate the need for bold and ambitious commitments.  And he looks forward to participating in the discussion and to seeing the outcomes and no… no indication… go… go ahead.

Question:  So, any information or… have there been any conversations so far between the Secretariat and the US about their intended contributions?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we're waiting to see what comes out of the US.  We hope that it is bold, and we hope that it leads others to follow suit.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have, first, a follow‑up on your Syria statement.  Does that… can you clarify… or say it in more clear words, if possible?  Does that mean that you don't believe the elections to be fair and free?

Spokesman:  I… listen, I think my words on Syria were pretty clear.  I used a lot of them, and I think I gave you enough to do your own analysis of the situation.  Basically, the… I will try to do it in plainer English.  We've seen the decision taken by… the announcement made by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic.  For our part, the election is being held under the auspices of the current Constitution.  They're not part of the political process.  We are not involved in the election.  We have no mandate to be.  So, that's a statement of fact.  The other statement of fact is that we continue to stress the importance of a political solution to the conflict, and I'm just underscoring for your help the fact that resolution 2254 (2015) mandates us to facilitate a political process that will culminate in the holdings of free and fair elections in accordance with a new Constitution, and then those elections would be administered under UN supervision to the highest standards.  You had a second question.

Question:  Yes, I have a… my question is on this country.  So, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, welcomed the guilty verdict of… in George Floyd's case, but she also noted that reforms to policing departments across the US continue to be insufficient to stop people of African descent from being killed.  So, do you agree with her statement?  What's your position on this issue?  Thank you.  I… on the verdict and on…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We, obviously… we welcome the verdict, which is a strong message in terms of bringing justice to what happened to George Floyd, to his murder, which was plain to see by everyone on video.  We have absolutely no issue with what the High Commissioner said and the opinions she expressed.  And I would remind you that the Secretary‑General himself had said that we have seen many cases where police… of police violence, and all these cases need to be investigated.  And he's always said that police forces around the world need to have adequate human rights training and [there] needs to be an investment in social… and this investment in this training for the police so they can do their job properly in protecting communities.  And this applies… for the Secretary‑General, this applies around the world.  Okay.  Ms. Peltz from the Associated Press.

Question:  Thank you.  I wanted to ask, on the question of the Afghanistan conference, is there any thought about when it might be rescheduled?  And what do you think the postponement portends for the prospects of peace and stability there?

Spokesman:  Well, there's no date that we're ready to announce.  Obviously, we would like to see these discussions happening.  We'll do whatever we can to support intra‑Afghan dialogue.  We think that… we're convinced that dialogue and a political solution is the most important way to bring peace to Afghanistan.  Okay.  I don't see any other questions in the chat.  I'll come back to the room.  James?

Question:  Yeah.  Four UN human rights experts, independent Special Rapporteurs, have issued a statement about Alexei Navalny.  They say that they believe his life is in serious danger, and they're urging his medical evacuation from Russia.  Does the Secretary‑General share those calls coming from these four different top human rights experts?

Spokesman:  I mean, what we believe is, A, that… well, I'll say, from our standpoint, the Secretary‑General, as I've said, is following this very closely with concern.  We very much hope that the Russian authorities will provide the right level of medical care for Mr. Navalny in order to avoid the worst.  Okay.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Several weeks ago, Russia recalled their ambassador from Washington, D.C., after George Stephanopoulos asked a rather provocative question of President Biden, who foolishly responded undiplomatically.  And today, I see that Russia has asked the US Ambassador to leave the country.  So, what does the US… the UN have to say about these withdrawals of the highest diplomatic representation?

Spokesman:  These are bilateral issues between two Member States.  We always are working for and hope for a positive atmosphere in the dialogue between all Member States, but especially between these two very important Member States, two members of the… permanent members of the Security Council, the United States and the Russian Federation.  Okay.  Mr. Sato, are you waving or… yes, go ahead, Sato‑san.

Question:  I’m always waving.  Thank you very much for pointing to me.  So, my question is about Myanmar in your first statement.  The Special Envoy, Ms. Burgener, is going to join the side event of the ASEAN Summit meeting.  And more precisely, what role does Secretary‑General expect her to play during this meeting?  And also, is she going to meet with the Myanmar leadership during the ASEAN summit meeting?

Spokesman:  So, just to be clear, she is not participating in the meeting.  Right? This is an ASEAN meeting.  She is not addressing the meeting as a whole.  She will be visiting Jakarta while the meeting is going on and using that time to have discussions with various parties who are also in Jakarta.  It is… it's a good way for her to be able, in one place, to meet many of the key players.  As to who she will be meeting, once she meets people, we will have a bit more to say.  Okay.  Sorry.  James, and then we have two more questions, and then the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly is very eager to come to the podium.

Question:  Sorry.  I know you just said you weren't going to say who she's going to speak to, but is she endeavouring to have a meeting with the general from Myanmar, who will be attending the summit?  Because she has been trying to get to Myanmar, he would be an obvious person for her to try to speak to.

Spokesman:  She will be trying to speak to all the key actors.  Obviously, the representatives of the military, who she's been speaking to in the past via email and on the phone, would be on that dance card.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Just an update on Navalny story and situation because right now, in Russia, they're going on massive protests with Russian people demand to release Navalny.  And latest news says there is… there are at least 300 people detained.  Will there be any reaction of the United Nations, Secretary‑General, on support of freedom of speech for this in Russia?

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary‑General believes in freedom of speech and the freedom to protest, the freedom to protest peacefully, the freedom to protest… to express one's political opinion in every Member State of this Organization.  Célhia is reaching for her microphone.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yes.  But did the Secretary‑General talk with [Vladimir] Putin… the President Putin?  Did he really talk to him about the situation…?

Spokesman:  I have to check the last time the Secretary‑General had a phone call with President Putin.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You are very welcome.  Brenden, you are very welcome.

For information media. Not an official record.