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

All right.  Good afternoon.  Can you hear me in the room?  Wave your arm if you can hear me.  Awesome, that is great.  We can get start then.  Happy Friday.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

First, we have an update on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following the eruption of the Nyiragongo Volcano.

Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report that about 400,000 people are potentially affected by the state evacuation order of 10 districts in Goma, issued amid fears of a new eruption.

Thousands of people are now displaced and on the move.  They are heading towards Sake, west of Goma; Rubavu in Rwanda; and Rutshuru in the north.  People are also crossing Lake Kivu to reach Bukavu, in the province of South Kivu.  Tremors are continuing today.  Yesterday, one of them measured at 4.9 on the Richter scale.

Initially, humanitarian assistance focused on people directly affected by the volcanic eruption as well as on neighbourhoods in Goma without access to water.  But, with mass displacement, the focus is widening.  New assessments will take place today in Sake, Rutshuru and other areas to where people have moved.  Water, sanitation and disease outbreak prevention are among the priorities.

For its part, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the country (MONUSCO) continues to provide support to the authorities.  Priorities for support include the rehabilitation of roads leading to Goma and repairs of the water system damaged by the eruption and seismic episodes.

The Mission continues to conduct helicopter and drone flights to identify possible fissures or vents of the lava outflow in Goma.  Peacekeepers have also provided water to displaced people in Sake.

The Mission reports that it has completed the first major temporary relocation of non-critical personnel from Goma to several locations, in particular to Bukavu and Sake.  Critical personnel and assets remain in Goma to support the authorities and the response.  As we mentioned earlier this week, more than 30 people have died in the volcano’s eruption.

**Yemen

The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, was in Muscat yesterday.  He met with Mohammed Abdel Salam, the chief negotiator of Ansar Allah.  He also met with senior Omani officials.

He discussed the UN plan to open Sana’a airport and lift restrictions on Hudaydah ports to enhance the freedom of movement of people and commodities to and from Yemen, achieve a nationwide ceasefire, and commit the parties to the relaunch of a political process to end the conflict.

Mr. Griffiths said that his recent meetings, as well as the continued international and regional support, show that the parties could still seize this opportunity and make a breakthrough towards resolving the conflict.

**Lebanon

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) today handed over one of its positions to the Lebanese Armed Forces, its strategic partner, at a ceemony in south-western Lebanon.  The UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, handed over UN position “2-45A” to Brigadier General Maroun Kobayati.

Today’s handover is part of the continued UNIFIL support for the Lebanese army’s deployment throughout the south, which is critical for the extension of the Government’s authority in the area.

**Libya

Ján Kubiš, the Special Envoy for Libya, said yesterday at the closure of the virtual meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum that a majority of delegates had expressed the need to end the transitional phase with the holding of elections on 24 December.

He said he intends to forward to the House of Representatives and to the High Council of State the basis and outcome of the Forum’s deliberations.  He will do so without delay, with a clear request that they clarify the constitutional basis and legislation for elections, ideally by 15-20 June.

**Afghanistan

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is calling for greater support from the international community for Afghanistan’s people, including those displaced within its borders and refugees seeking safety outside the country.

The appeal comes at the end of a four-day visit by UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, Raouf Mazou.  He raised concerns about the continued violence which has been causing new displacement.  So far in 2021, more than 100,000 Afghans have been internally displaced due to conflict.

UNHCR has assisted more than 100,000 internally displaced Afghans in the last six months through the distribution of hygiene kits, emergency shelter kits, family tents, sanitary kits and other non-food items.  Cash assistance has also been provided to vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, children and women at risk, people with disabilities, and those with serious medical conditions.

While the international community has made immense contributions during the last 20 years, aid and funding for Afghanistan have been on the decline.  UNHCR’s financial appeal of $123.5 million for 2021 is only 24 per cent funded.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Tigray, in Ethiopia:  The UN refugee agency today said that it has received disturbing reports of soldiers entering a number of temporary accommodations for the displaced in Shire and taking away several hundreds of youths — internally displaced Ethiopians who had been sheltering there.  UNHCR said that the situation was dramatic and distressing, not only for the relatives of the missing, but for all the displaced in Shire.

The UN refugee agency stressed that it was critical that all combatants recognize the humanitarian character and sanctity of the displacement sites in Shire and elsewhere.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, our team on the ground tells us that more than 121,000 people have been internally displaced due to armed conflict and insecurity in parts of the country since the start of 2021.  The majority of this displacement has taken place after 1 February, when the military seized control over the Government.

Earlier this week, some 37,000 people were displaced in Kayah State in south-eastern Myanmar following a new wave of clashes between the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Karenni Army, as well as the Karenni People’s Defence Force.  Thousands more were uprooted in the past few weeks in northern parts of Shan State due to clashes between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed organizations, as well as fighting among ethnic armed organizations.

Thousands of people have also fled their homes in south-eastern areas of Chin State since last week.

Our colleagues in the country team say that the humanitarian needs stemming from new displacement compounds the needs of the 1 million people who had been identified as requiring aid at the start of this year.  Our colleagues reiterate their call on all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to the UN and our partners.

**COVID-19/Brazil

In Brazil, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Silvia Rucks, continues to provide support to state and municipal authorities in their ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  After four months of the immunization campaign, 39 per cent of people over the age of 60 have been fully vaccinated in the country.  This represents 11.7 million people.

To boost treatment capacities, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) delivered oxygen production equipment for a maternity ward in the northern part of Brazil.  For its part, the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) contributed to the procurement of 60 extra beds for a hospital in the southern state of Santa Catarina.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) provided COVID-19 testing support and provided medical care to nearly 500 people in the north-western states of Roraima and Amazonas.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) partnered with the National Justice Council to reduce overcrowding and the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak across the nation’s correctional facilities.

**Belarus

The International Civil Aviation Organization Council (ICAO) expressed its strong concern at the apparent forced diversion of a Ryanair commercial passenger aircraft flying in Belarus airspace on Sunday, 23 May.

At a special meeting convened yesterday, the ICAO Governing Body underlined the importance of establishing the facts of what happened, and of understanding whether there had been any breach by any ICAO Member State of international aviation law.

Recalling Article 55 (e) of the Chicago Convention, the Council decided to undertake a fact-finding investigation of this event.  It requested the ICAO Secretariat to prepare an interim report to the Council for a subsequent meeting of the current session, presenting the available facts and relevant legal instruments.

**Closure on Monday

As you know, Monday is Memorial Day in the United States, and the UN will be closed.  We will, as always, be available to you via email to answer any questions you may have during that time, and we will be back on Tuesday.

**Hybrid Briefing Tuesday

And on Tuesday, at 3 p.m., Ambassador Sven Jürgenson, the Permanent Representative of Estonia and President of the Security Council for the month of June, will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.  He will brief you from the Press Briefing Room.

And Stéphane [Dujarric] will also be back to brief you from the Press Briefing Room for the Noon Briefing on Tuesday.

And that is it from me.  I’ll open the floor to questions.

**Questions and Answers

First off, I have… I believe, Toby, your hand is raised?  You go first, and then there’s someone next to you there.  Okay, Toby.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Nice to see you.  Is there a… did ICAO give a time frame on when they expect this investigation to be started, finished?  What’s the time frame?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the idea is that they want to have at least an interim report available during the current session of the ICAO, so that… in other words, they are trying to get that done while the session that’s under way is still in progress.  Beyond that, in terms of specific facts of a timetable, I’ll leave that in the hands of our colleagues at ICAO.

Question:  Thanks.  A follow-up question on Yemen, please, which is, can you give any more colour commentary about the nature of the discussion between Martin Griffiths and the Ansar Allah negotiator?  Did he feel encouraged?  What was the mood?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, technically, colour commentary is your part of the job; it’s not my part of the job.

I do want to point out, in terms of what I just read, that Mr. Griffiths, in what he said after he left Oman, is that he did say that his meetings showed that the parties could still seize this opportunity and make a breakthrough towards resolving the conflict.  So, I will leave it to you to interpret how optimistic that sounds.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Can I ask one more question?

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Sure, one more, and then we’ll go over to your colleague on the left… well, my left, your right. 

Question:  Thanks; appreciate it, which is on… a top US general has said that interpreters in Afghanistan are likely to be evacuated.  Is the UN concerned about the safety of that group of people?  And are you paying specific attention to that class of professionals?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I wouldn’t highlight any particular group.  You’ll have seen what UNHCR said, that we have concerns about a number of groups in Afghanistan, including, of course, the internally displaced in recent months.  Obviously, if there is any further unrest on the ground in Afghanistan — and I don’t want to speculate on whether that happens or not — it is the responsibility of the international community, after all of the efforts we have put collectively in Afghanistan in recent years, to make sure that the people of Afghanistan will be cared for.  And, certainly, I think that is a commitment that the United Nations and all involved countries must take seriously.

Okay.  Yes.  Yes, you with your hand raised.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Abdellahi Masi from Alhurra.  Farhan, yesterday, the UNAMI (United Nations Mission in Iraq) was extended by the Security Council for one year.  I have two questions.  One is, in over all, how do you evaluate the UNAMI role in Iraq since its establishment 18 years ago?

And my second question is, Iraq, as you know, is a divided country, facing very serious challenges on the ground.  There are security and stability issues, upcoming election.  Is the UN and its Mission in Iraq able to address those challenges?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, to answer your second question first, yes, we are able to answer the challenges.  The Secretary-General has welcomed the extension of the UNAMI Mission for a year, and the Mission itself is fully committed to providing a strengthened, robust and visible UN team with additional staff in accordance with the mandate that is given to us by the Security Council.

And we will continue to provide assistance to the Government of Iraq, including regarding the commitment that we have to ensure the delivery of free, fair, inclusive and participatory elections.

And of course, in terms of the history of the UN over the past 18 years, in some ways, I will leave the evaluation to you, but certainly, those of you who have followed Iraq know the conditions under which the Mission was created, know the tremendous problems Iraq had a decade and a half ago.  And certainly, we’ve done our best to try to improve conditions on the ground, and we hope that we have achieved that goal.

Okay.  Over to Oscar Bolanos and then to Iftikhar.  Oscar first.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  It’s nice to see you again and… yes, hi.  Do you have any readout about the situation, the crisis, in Colombia and all these 30 days of demonstrations and violence in the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  I mean, yes, we do.  What I can tell you is we continue to closely follow developments surrounding the protests in Colombia and to lend support where the UN can be of assistance.

The UN team on the ground is continuing to call for respect for the right of peaceful protest, full observance of human rights by the security forces and a stop to all violence and acts of vandalism.  We also continue to urge inclusive and peaceful dialogue in order to arrive at solutions.

And I’d like to add that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, along with the Catholic Church, are acting as guarantors and facilitators of dialogue between the Government and the national strike committee, with the participation of the Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  Yes.  May I follow up, please?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  Yes.  There are reports from the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch of the dozens of people being killed during this demonstration, the violence, and dozens of people being disappeared and forced disappearance.

So, on this regard, do you think or what is your comment if these violence in 30 days of demonstrations can affect the peace process of Verification Mission in the country by the UN, which is the sponsor on the peace agreement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, like I said, our Special Representative is on the ground, and Mr. Ruiz Massieu is trying to make sure that the peace process continues to be on track.  We’ll continue to support the Government and people of Colombia wherever we can be of assistance on this.

And regarding the reports of human rights violations, I think that also suggests the importance of making sure that any violations are fully investigated.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thank you.  And Iftikhar, over to you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Following up on Afghanistan, in your opening remarks, you referred to continuing violence and displacement of the people, but what is the development on the diplomatic front?  The month of Ramadan has long gone, and still there’s no word about the resumption of peace talks between the parties.  Any news about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  I mean, there is.  I don’t… there’s no news in terms of being able to announce a date just yet.  As you know, it takes a while to establish when a timeline for this could be.  However, I can tell you that the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Mr. Jean Arnault, has been meeting with the permanent representatives to the United Nations in view of the important role of regional countries with regards to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan.  So, he is continuing with those efforts, and we will do our best, now that Ramadan has come and gone, to see when we can reschedule these meetings.

And if that is it, I will wish you all a very happy holiday weekend, and we’ll see you on Tuesday.  Have a great weekend.  Bye.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.