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17 June 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.

**Secretary-General Press Encounter

As a reminder, there is an election going on in the General Assembly tomorrow.  I just want to remind you that the Secretary-General will deliver remarks, should everything go according to plan.  He will then speak to you at the stakeout outside of the General Assembly, which is still referred to as the East Foyer.  That stakeout will only be in person.  You will be able to watch it live on WebTV, but if you want to ask questions, you will have to be there in person, we cannot do it hybrid from there.  That should be around 10:30 a.m., 10:40 a.m., but, obviously, we never know of the timing of these things.  We will also try to share with you embargoed remarks before he delivers them, so you have them.

**United States-Russian Federation Statement

I just got a statement on the summit meeting that wrapped up in Geneva yesterday and on the Joint Statement on Strategic Stability which was issued afterwards.  The Secretary-General welcomes the Joint Statement on Strategic Stability issued by the Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States following yesterday’s summit, especially the reaffirmation of their adherence to the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.  Furthermore, the Secretary-General welcomes the intention of the Russian Federation and the United States to engage in an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability dialogue and he expresses his hope that this would lead to concrete arms control measures, including further reductions in the size of the world’s [largest] nuclear arsenals.

**Middle-Income Countries

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level Meeting on Middle-Income Countries.  The event took place in the General Assembly Hall.  He said that middle-income countries are a key presence at the United Nations, accounting for 70 per cent of the global population.  He noted that they are being squeezed from two sides:  first, their rising labour costs make them unable to compete with lower-cost countries; and second, they are unable to compete in skill-intensive and higher‑value-added exports.  Avoiding this trap, he said, requires redesigning development strategies and gradually shifting to higher‑value-added sectors, with a focus on innovative, sustainable and inclusive growth.  He added that these countries also face varying levels of access to financial markets, and diverse social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities, but that these are often overlooked as a result of a false perception that income is the only measure of development.  Mr. [António] Guterres underscored that these vulnerabilities only worsened with the pandemic and called for increased financing and a new debt mechanism which could provide more options for these countries.

**Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants

The Secretary-General also spoke in a pre-recorded video message to the International Donors’ Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants, which is being hosted by Canada in collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  The Secretary-General said that after six consecutive years of economic contraction, the situation in Venezuela continues to impose great hardship on the living conditions and well-being of its people, forcing many to leave.  He added that Venezuelan refugees and migrants are facing increasing discrimination and xenophobia and are finding it difficult to access institutional protection.  The Secretary-General stressed the need for inclusive policies that promote the socioeconomic integration of migrants and refugees and reiterated the UN’s continued support to Governments, civil society and host communities to respond to the pressing needs in the region.  He also underscored that Venezuelan refugees and migrants must be included in all vaccination efforts if we are to effectively mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

**Myanmar

A note on Myanmar:  I think that you and I know, we have all seen the reports of the Government forces burning down villages in Kin Ma in Magway region on 15 June, two days ago.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned and disturbed by these reports which remind us of the systematic burning of villages in north Rakhine State, which we saw in the past and which led to the dramatic exodus of the Rohingya people.  The Secretary-General continues to strongly condemn the continued repression by the security forces against civilians across the country, which again is having major regional ramifications and requires a unified international response.

Our colleagues in the country team in Myanmar say that the recent violence, including the burning of villages, illustrates the sharp deterioration of the human rights environment in Myanmar.  In addition to the burned villages, our colleagues pointed to the discovery of two mass graves in Myawaddy Township in Kayin State which contained the remains of 25 people who were reportedly detained on 31 May by the Karen National Defence Organization.  We once again call on all involved in the current crisis to ensure that international human rights norms and standards are respected.  This includes minimizing harm to civilians and to civilian infrastructure, as well as prohibiting collective punishment against communities, families or individuals.  We also call for those responsible for human rights violations to be held accountable.

A programming note:  as you know, on Myanmar, there will be a private meeting by the Security Council tomorrow.  During that meeting, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, will brief and she will come to the Security Council stakeout [in person] to speak to you and to take a few questions at the stakeout.  As a reminder, because of the heavy news load, obviously the Secretary-General’s own stakeout and Ms. Schraner Burgener’s, we will not have a noon briefing so as not to compete with ourselves.  And we expect Ms. Schraner Burgener to be at the stakeout around noon or so, but we’ll let you know.

**Lebanon

On Lebanon, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, today called on countries taking part in a French-hosted virtual conference in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces to do everything in their power to meet the immediate emergency needs of Lebanon’s military institution, which has been deeply affected by the economic crisis [the country faces].  She noted the pivotal role played by the Lebanese army in safeguarding Lebanon’s security and stability and in the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  She said that meeting the army’s immediate material and human needs was necessary to keep it functioning and added the UN will support the Armed Forces in instituting follow-up arrangements for today’s conference.

**Ethiopia

An update on the situation in Ethiopia:  our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the security and access situation in Tigray remains complex and extremely fluid, with active hostilities impeding people’s access to aid and the movement of aid workers.  In May, last month, more than 500 cases of gender-based violence, including rape, were reported.  This includes about 70 reported cases against girls under 18.  Our humanitarian colleagues expect the actual number of cases to be significantly higher, given the underreporting due to fear of stigmatization, retaliation, limited access to trusted service providers and widespread impunity for perpetrators.  Despite challenges, humanitarian partners are scaling up the response as quickly as possible.  Under the latest response plan for northern Ethiopia, since 1 May, more than 2.3 million people out of the targeted 5.2 [million] have been reached with food aid.  This includes 654,000 people who were reached last week alone.  The response is, however, still not keeping pace with the mounting needs.  We continue to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access.  More funding is also urgently needed.

**COVID-19 — Brazil

A quick COVID note:  in Brazil, our UN team there, led by the Resident Coordinator, Silvia Rucks, continues supporting national and local authorities to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) set up water distribution areas in four sheltering facilities that host Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the Amazon region.  For its part, UNHCR, along with authorities, have opened a space for refugees and migrants that will provide documentation, legal advice and psychosocial assistance.  UNHCR, UN‑Women, and the UN Global Compact and have also launched an initiative to boost livelihoods and empower refugee women, with a four-week training course on sales and customer services for Venezuelan women.  As part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour and the World Day Against Child Labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO), as well the Brazilian Federal Labour Prosecutor´s Office and its partners, launched a national campaign in Brazil to raise awareness and combat child labour, a risk that has intensified globally with school closures due to the pandemic.

**Desertification

Today is the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that land can be our greatest ally, but that, right now, it is suffering.  He said that land degradation from climate change and the expansion of agriculture, cities and infrastructure is undermining the well‑being of 3.2 billion people, harming biodiversity and enabling the emergence of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.  He added that restoring degraded land is simple and inexpensive.  It could generate an extra $1.4 trillion in agricultural production each year.  He called on countries to make healthy land central to all their planning.

**Suicide

The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide.  According to its latest estimates published today, every year, more people die as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer — or war and homicide.  WHO’s data shows that, in 2019, more than 700,000 people died by suicide.  This represents 1 in every 100 deaths.  To help countries improve suicide prevention and care, WHO also released comprehensive guidance with four main strategies.  Among them are limiting access to the means of suicide, educating the media on responsible reporting of suicide, and supporting adolescents.  You can find more information on WHO’s website.

**Financial Contribution

Today, we have a Member State that paid its dues in full, becoming the 109th to do so, and the main port of that Member State lies on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Demerara River.  Anybody know what country that is?  It is Guyana, and we thank our friends in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, for paying its budget dues in full.  All right, Edie.  At least you gave it a try.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A couple of questions, Steph.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the arrest today in Hong Kong of five editors and executives of the pro-democracy Apple Daily on charges of colluding with foreign Powers?

Spokesman:  As I said, we’ve, obviously, seen these latest developments, and I would say what we have said a number of times is that an independent media is a fundamental pillar of an open and participative society.  Yep.

Question:  Next, the leader of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], Kim Jong-un, has said that there is food insecurity there.  I wondered whether the DPRK has asked the United Nations for stepped-up assistance?

Spokesman:  That’s a very good question.  I will check with our humanitarian colleagues.  Okay.  Madame?

Question:  Oh, sorry.  I had that on.  Thanks, Steph.  Given the Security Council is talking about Haiti today and given that the former Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has a book out now in which he calls Haiti and the cholera epidemic there a stain on the United Nations… given the United Nations’ history in Haiti with cholera and given the comments of Secretary-General Ban calling this a stain, I’m wondering if Secretary-General Guterres would share that assessment and if he has considered, perhaps, a different approach to making victims whole given that the request for some $400 million to compensate them was severely underfunded and only about $8 million has gone to victims so far.

Spokesman:  I think dealing with the outbreak of cholera in Haiti has been, first and foremost, on Secretary-General Guterres’ mind.  It’s one of the first initiatives he took with this… the new approach, the kind of dual track one to supporting the public health system in Haiti, and also supporting those communities that have been impacted.  I think we also need to show… see… to note there really hasn’t been a single case of cholera in two consecutive years in Haiti, which is a big accomplishment, and it’s the accomplishment of the Haitians themselves.  We’ve been supporting their public health efforts.  The new approach included support for those Haitians most impacted.  There’s been a funding issue.  Right?  We’ve… we haven’t had the funds that we need to for all the tracks, and we continue to appeal for funds for that.

Question:  Can I just follow up, too?  Because, I mean, he… Ban called the lawsuit on behalf of the victims an attempt at extortion.  Would the Secretary‑General share that assessment, as well?  And would it help, perhaps, if the UN more forcefully acknowledged its role there?  Because that has been also a bit dodgy of an explanation, if you will.

Spokesman:  I can only speak for the sitting Secretary-General, one at a time.  I think what this Secretary-General, and frankly, the previous one also said about Haiti was very emotional in trying to support the people of Haiti, understanding what cholera has done to Haiti.  On the legal process, I would refer you to what we said after each decision.  I mean, that’s a legal process, and we said what we’ve had to say on that.  Okay.  Toby and then Célhia.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  I know tomorrow’s going to be very busy on Myanmar, so we’ll be focussed on that there, but now we’ve got mass graves.  We’ve got villages burned down.  Is the fundamental strategy of the UN… as far as you know from the Special Envoy and other officers, is it changing?

Spokesman:  The goals remain the same.  The strategy… the main point of the strategy is really a unified voice in response to the tragic trajectory we have seen in Myanmar since 1 February.  We understand and… that the… we expect a vote in the General Assembly on a resolution tomorrow, and maybe our colleague Amy [Quantrill] may have more on that today if she’s briefing.  We hope that the international community continues to speak with a single voice on this, as well as to engage with the authorities in Myanmar and trying to restore basic freedoms, right, the freedom to be alive, the freedom not to have your village burned down, the freedom to have journalists not in prison, the freedom to have doctors not harassed, all of this, but this demands a communal effort.

Question:  But, as you say, it is a trajectory, and it is possible to predict the end points of trajectories.  So, does this mean… we could have seen this coming.  So, has there been a failure of… from the UN in terms of the response that we’ve seen so far?

Spokesman:  I think it depends what you mean by the UN, right?  I mean, we… the Special Envoy is a diplomatic envoy, representing the Secretary-General.  We know what levers of power that the Secretary-General has, but others — regional organizations, Member States — have a critical role to play because, frankly, as in many situations, they hold more power.  But, we will continue with the goal that we’ve stated in the beginning.  Célhia?

Question:  Steph, the French have announced the end of Barkhane.  At the same time, they have asked for 2,000 more peacekeepers to be sent to Mali, and at the same time, in the streets, some Malians are asking for the Russians to come.  So, where are we right now?  I know.

Spokesman:  I know, yeah.  I think you know where we are better than I know where we are.  In all seriousness, the people of Mali deserve the support of the international community.  They have the support of the United Nations.  We are a part of what the international community can do.  Our Mission continues to be, frankly, in the front lines.  I mean… and that you can see from the tragic death of our Chadian peacekeepers, from the continued attacks on the outposts that we have in the north.  But, the Malian leaders… the political leaders of Mali also have a critical responsibility to their own people, and that’s why we need to see a transition back on track, for a return to democracy.  That is the only way through a political agreement between the leaders and all the parties involved that you will only get calm back to Mali.  As far as the mandate given to us by the Security Council, we continue to follow it to a tee.

Question:  Will the UN agree to send 2,000 more people?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we… the change in the ceiling of any peacekeeping mission is a decision taken by the Security Council.  We… of course, once it’s there, we implement it, but then it is also up to those Member States to provide those troops to our peacekeeping colleagues.  Okay.  Let me see if there’s anything in the chat.  I don’t… oh, James Reinl.  And then Abdelhamid.  Yep.

Question:  Hi there, Stéphane.  Thanks so much.  You gave us a little bit of info on the response to the [Vladimir] Putin-[Joseph R.] Biden meeting.  One thing we’ve learned that the gentlemen did discuss is this cross-border aid operations into Syria.  Sadly, they didn’t reach an agreement.  Is Mr. Guterres disappointed by this?  And will he play an active role in trying to bridge these differences in the run-up to 10 July?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary-General has been playing an active role.  He has been stating his position publicly and privately to members of the Security Council, especially the five permanent members, about the critical need to have that one remaining crossing open, the Bab al-Hawa…

Correspondent:  Bab al-Hawa.

Spokesman:  …crossing — yeah, thank you — crossing remaining open.  I mean, it’s no secret that we have been saying over and over again during this briefing and others of the critical use of that [crossing point] to bringing aid to millions of Syrians in the area.  Ultimately, the decision is one that will be taken in the Security Council chamber.  It has to be done before 10 July, and we hope for a positive outcome.

Question:  And… thanks.  And also on Myanmar, Toby just asked you a bunch of questions about all these meetings tomorrow.  One issue that keeps on coming up and will be coming up tomorrow is whether or not to impose an arms embargo or some kind of weapon transfer restrictions to Myanmar.  I can’t remember if you guys have actually got a formal position on this, but what does the Secretary-General think, arms embargo against the junta or not?

Spokesman:  Well, what we’ve always said is that sanctions imposed by the Security Council need to be targeted, and they need to be targeted to those who hold the power, and they need to be targeted in order for them not to inflict more pain on those who don’t hold the power, and that continues to be our position.  Abdelhamid.  Abdelhamid?  Okay.  Then if he’s not asking a question, I think we will leave it at that.  Amy is not briefing, and that’s it.  We shall see… we won’t see you tomorrow here, but we… two briefings tomorrow.  We’ll keep you updated on the times of both of those.

For information media. Not an official record.