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7 May 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.

Good afternoon.

**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

I wanted to update you on the situation in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, following the eruption of the Soufrière volcano.  We have about 30 of our staff from seven different UN agencies there.  They are supporting relief and recovery efforts on the ground in close collaboration with the Government, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and other partners.

Along with earlier support for food assistance, water and sanitation, health and protection — including from violence against women and children — the UN team and our partners are providing support with reproductive health, shelter, education and protection of livelihoods, including livestock.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), for its part, is providing personal protective equipment and medical equipment to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, also with $250,000 delivered for water and sanitation supplies.

And the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is rolling out a $300,000 crisis response and recovery effort to swiftly clean the volcanic ashes, with emergency employment for over 2,000 households.

And with 20,000 people at risk of food insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners continue to deliver immediate assistance.  Three mobile storage units and two prefabricated offices are increasing the agency’s storage capacity.  Around 90 per cent water flow capacity has been restored island-wide, in an effort led by the authorities, supported by the United Nations.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, the UN Country Team says today it remains deeply concerned about continued reports of violence used by the security forces against demonstrators.  There are reports of death and injuries amongst demonstrators and bystanders on a daily basis.

Our team says that, according to the best available data, at least 774 women, children and men have been killed across Myanmar between 1 February and 6 May.  The vast majority of those who were killed died of gunshots.  The UN team is also concerned about the condition of 3,740 people who have been arbitrarily arrested and remain in detention.

Our colleagues in Myanmar said they are also concerned about the increasing reports of explosions and arson in different parts of the country.

**Madagascar

A quick update from Madagascar, where we have been telling you about the desperate humanitarian situation in the southern part, in the Grand Sud, of the country, which is experiencing its most acute drought in four decades and the situation is sadly deteriorating rapidly.  More than 1.1 million people — that’s about two out of every five people there — are severely food insecure.

The situation is expected to deteriorate in the months ahead.

Alarmingly, in Amboasary Atsimo district, about 75 per cent of the population is facing severe hunger, with nearly 14,000 people being catastrophically food insecure and in famine-like conditions.

The number of children admitted for treatment of life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in the first quarter of 2021 was four times higher than the five-year average.

The UN, together with our humanitarian partners, is scaling up the response, but more resources are urgently needed to save lives.

The Flash Appeal for Madagascar, launched in January, called for $76 million to support 1 million people, but is [only] 22 per cent funded so far.  We urgently call on the international community to provide additional funding.

**COVID-19 Vaccines

A few COVAX updates for you:  Also, you may have seen, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], has just announced that the WHO has given Emergency Use Listing to Sinopharm Beijing’s COVID-19 vaccine.  This brings the number of vaccines receiving WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality to six.

Ghana today received its second batch of the vaccine from COVAX.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) helped to ensure that 350,000 doses arrived safely from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

More than 850,000 doses have been administered since March in Ghana.  The UN team will help train health workers to administer the newly arrived vaccine doses.  We have also been helping with vaccinations on many other fronts, including logistics, operations, and communications.

Also, on COVAX, the Government of Honduras yesterday received nearly 190,000 doses through COVAX.  These doses will allow all public and non-public health workers to be vaccinated.

**COVID-19 — Papua New Guinea

Just an update from Papua New Guinea, where our UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Gianluca Rampolla, continues to step up their support to authorities to respond to the pandemic.  As of yesterday, more than 4,000 people received their first dose of the vaccine.  This effort includes the use of 132,000 COVAX-backed doses which arrived last month.

This week, the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund and the Resident Coordinator’s Office backed the launch of the national communications campaign to boost vaccine uptake across the country.  WHO and UNICEF also continue to support with logistics, training and case management, including with the forthcoming arrival of new equipment procured by the UN.

In addition, UNICEF and Gavi have handed more than [220] solar-powered vaccine fridges to authorities this week to help boost the country’s cold chain capacity for the safe storage of vaccines and to increase coverage.

**Noon Briefing Guest Monday

Lastly, I was about to say tomorrow, but rather, on Monday, I will be joined by the Special Adviser and Head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by ISIL (Da’esh) in Iraq, and that person is Karim Khan.  He will join us here following his briefing to the Security Council on the sixth and final report on activities of the team, known as UNITAD.  We have also shared embargoed copies of that report with you.

Okay, any questions?  Wave.  I don’t see it.  Yes, please, thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question regarding the designation of Special Envoy on Western Sahara.  It looks like there is a name circulating, Staffan de Mistura.  The Moroccan, Moroccans are accusing the Frente Polisario that they and not accepting any new names, and the other way also.  So, any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Well, the only thing I would do is refer you back to what the Secretary-General said just even a few minutes ago in the General Assembly in answering the question.  He said he had, I think, nominated, put forward, let’s say the names of 12 people already for that post.  So, the fact that there is no Personal Envoy yet is clearly not due to the lack of effort of the Secretary-General.

He will continue to pursue, to name a Personal Envoy.  Obviously, one that is agreeable or at least not rejectable by number of parties involved.  And his efforts will continue.  We will not, as you know, comment on names that are circulating on the Internet, the Ethernet, or any other net.  And just wait for our announcement.  Thank you.

Okay, Stefano Vaccara?

Question:  Thank you very much.  Hello, Stéphane.  I have a question and it happened again…can you hear me?  Yes?

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.

Question:  Happened again in the Mediterranean yesterday, a fishing boat from Sicily, from Mazara del Vallo, was shot at by [Khalifa] Haftar militia in Libya and the captain of the fishing boat was hit.  And now, my question is a part of the problem of the fishing industry, how does that Secretary-General think that this situation, where they keep shooting or taking prisoner of fishing people that trying to work in the Mediterranean could halt the stability of Libya, because probably next time it could be the Italian military, the Navy could intervene.  I mean, is it worried that this situation with the fishing industry and the Libyans and Haftar is shooting at them could compromise the peace process in Libya?

Spokesman:  Look, not for me to predict what one incident…the impact of one incident will have.  We, of course, people who are…you can’t hear me?  Okay, I mean, I don’t know what… [reporter makes hand gesture] does this mean you cannot hear me?

Question:  Yeah, I can hear you.

Spokesman:  You can hear me now.  I did not know…I had never seen this sign before.  All right.  So, sorry.  First of all, you know, we condemn any attack on fishermen especially if they are exercising their profession within the legal bounds.  That is not behaviour that is acceptable.  What that incident may have on the greater Libyan prospect, I can’t answer.  What is important is what we are doing in supporting the Libyan parties to establish a unified Government, a unified authority, a unified control over the security forces.  And we hope that effort, which has been moving on the right track, will provide stability not only for Libya but for the Mediterranean.

Okay.  Toby?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Thank you for the briefing, as always.  Question today is about the US statement that said the Houthis missed an opportunity there in Muscat to meet with Special Envoy [Martin] Griffiths.  Can you tell us any more about his interactions?  And what do the Houthis really have to gain here by engaging more fruitfully with the Envoy and with [Tim] Lenderking from the US, as well?

Spokesman:  Well, first, I would refer you back to the statement that Mr. Griffiths issued earlier this week, which I think was pretty pessimistic in tone, saying he was not where…we were not where we wanted to be.  What the Ansar Allah, the Houthis, what all the parties have to gain by engaging with Mr. Griffiths is a better future for the people of Yemen.  What they have to gain is a chance for peace for their country and for their people.

Sorry, let’s go to Abdelhamid and then I’ll go to Mr. Fazal.  Yes, go ahead, Mr. Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  But today the spokesman for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, qualified what is going on in Sheikh Jarrah as a war crime, forcing the people to defect from their homes.  Do you stand with that statement?  And, if you do, why doesn’t SG speak out against this situation in Sheikh Jarrah, in particular?

Spokesman:  Look, I think the Secretary-General, through his representative has spoken out forcefully on the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, whether things I’ve said here, what Mr. [Tor] Wennesland himself has said, that is on the Secretary-General’s behalf.  The Human Rights Office has a specific voice on human rights.  They are speaking up.  And we have nothing to add or to contradict or anything on that, on what they have said.  That is their responsibility to do that.  And we have no issue with what they’ve said.

Okay, hold on, let me go to the chat.  Mr. Fazal, please.

Question:  Can you hear me, please?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, I want to ask about Bangladesh and [inaudible] the leader of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia.  As you know, she was in jail with a fabricated corruption case.  And she was released in 2020, in March.  But virtually, she was house arrest.  Now she is hospitalized, and her health condition is very critical.  And so, I want to know what is your call to Bangladesh authority to ensure her proper treatment as in Bangladesh [inaudible] by the authorities?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I don’t have much to say except, of course, we do hope she receives the proper health treatment and that her health is not put in any danger, as we would say for anyone.  Okay, any other questions?  Otherwise, I will hand it over to…

Question:  I have a question, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Sorry, who was that?  Okay.

Question:  It’s James.  James Reinl.

Spokesman:  James.  And then we will go to Evelyn, who also I think also waved.  Go ahead, James.  And then we will go to Brenden.

Question:  Thank you so much.  I’ve got two questions.  You didn’t mention anything about the Secretary-General making his case for a second term before Governments today.  Is that something to do with the Spokesperson’s Office not covering and reporting on that kind of a re-election campaign?  Does that mean that we won’t get a copy of his comments?

Spokesman:  I think that is exactly it.  And the Secretary-General alluded to it…excuse me, Mr. [António] Guterres alluded to it in his remarks in the General Assembly — that there is a separation.  He is there as a candidate, put forward by the Mission of Portugal.  If you want to get access to his remarks, we can put you in touch with the Mission of Portugal because they are handling the whole thing.  So, I think Mr. Guterres was very…has been very cautious and careful about separating his activities as a candidate and the activities of his office to promote that candidature, which is not happening.  The remarks were not produced by the house.  And they have not been distributed by the house.

Evelyn, I’m sorry.

Question:  I’m sorry.  I’ve got one more question as well.  Sorry, Stéphane.  Sorry, Evelyn, as well.  You mentioned also that Mr. Karim Khan is going to be doing a briefing to the Council and then to us next week.  Obviously, his job is with UNITAD at the moment.  But obviously, he is taking on another job, which is going to be high profile, ICC (International Criminal Court) prosecutor.  And, obviously, we are all going to want to ask him questions about what is going to be his guiding principles in that new role.  Have you had a discussion with his office about this?  Will he be willing to field questions on, you know, his next job, as well?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, he is an experienced person.  So, he will be here to brief you on the extremely important work that he is doing in Iraq.  I’m sure that he will give you an answer one way or another on moving forward.  But he has not assumed that job.  So, I can’t imagine he will go into any detail if he answers the question, at all.  But as always, you are free to ask whatever question you want.  And those on the other side of the microphone are free to answer in any way we want.  All right, Evelyn; then we will go to Brenden [Varma], who seems to be very impatient.

Question:  Okay, thank you, Stéphane.  I’m going to take a wild stab at this.  The controversy or the saga of trying to get an envoy for Sahara, are most of them, are most of the SG’s suggestions turned down by Morocco?  Can you answer that?  Has Morocco rejected them?

Spokesman:  No; as, well, to use a perfect example of what the question I just answered to James, you are free to ask what you want.  Obviously, it is not for me to speak for anyone except for the Secretary-General.  You know the process.  We are trying to recruit people for any envoy or SG job.  We do not officially confirm or speak about it until everything is done and confirmed.  Names circulate.  But you are free to ask the various parties involved in this process.  But obviously, no name is official from our end until it is approved.

Okay.  On that note, I wish you all a wonderful weekend.  And khalas.

For information media. Not an official record.