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21 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 to all of you.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

So, I have a couple of travel announcements.  Tomorrow evening, the Secretary-General will fly to Brussels, where he will meet with European leaders, as well as with Belgian authorities.

In his meetings with the European Commission and in a session with the Heads of State and Government of the European Council, the Secretary-General will have exchanges on a broad range of issues, including collaboration between the European Union and the United Nations, the promotion of a sustainable and inclusive pandemic recovery based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), global access to COVID-19 vaccines, climate and multilateralism.

On Thursday, the Secretary-General will deliver a solemn address to the European Parliament in Brussels, in which he will reiterate the importance of the partnership between the UN and the EU to address the challenges we collectively face.

Later during the trip in Brussels, he is scheduled to have a private audience with the King and Queen of the Belgians.  Queen Mathilde, is also, as you may know, an SDG advocate.  The Secretary-General will also meet with Belgium’s Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sophie Wilmès, and Meryame Kitir, the Minister of Development Cooperation.

**Libya

The Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, is travelling to Germany today to lead the UN delegation to the Berlin II Conference on Libya and she will do that on behalf of the Secretary-General.

The meeting aims to take stock of progress made in the political, security, economic and humanitarian/human rights tracks since the last Berlin meeting, which was held in January 2020.  It will also discuss and address remaining challenges in the implementation of the Libya Political Dialogue Forum Roadmap.  The Secretary-General will address the conference via a pre-recorded video message, which we will share with you ahead of time.

**Peacekeeping

The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will represent the Secretary-General at the Ninth Moscow Conference on International Security, which is taking place from 22 to 24 June.

This event traditionally brings together government representatives, heads of international organizations and non-governmental experts, among others.

Mr. Lacroix will speak at the conference and will share the experiences of peacekeeping operations dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, while continuing to implement their mandates and support local and national efforts to combat the pandemic.

While in Moscow, Mr. Lacroix will hold meetings with senior Russian officials — from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Interior.  This will provide an opportunity to thank Russia for its support and contributions to peacekeeping and update on key issues.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council met in person this morning on South Sudan.  Briefing the Council was the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Nicholas Haysom.  He noted that, on 9 July, the Republic of South Sudan will mark its tenth anniversary as an independent state.

He said that the support the international community pledged to the country then remains as important today as the world’s youngest nation strives for peace, security, and prosperity for its citizens.

Mr. Haysom said there has been progress in the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement, including the official launch of the permanent constitution-making process.

He also warned of pervasive insecurity, in particular intercommunal violence, which continues to obstruct the realization of a durable and sustainable peace in South Sudan.

Those remarks were shared with you.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that it continues its efforts to combat disinformation in the country.

The Mission recently conducted an awareness-raising workshop for members of civil society and media outlets in Bangui.  The aim of that workshop was to fight messages of hatred and incitement to violence on social media.

Meanwhile in Bangassou, the UN Mission organized a workshop for 20 participants on good governance of community-based organizations and rumour management to better support social cohesion efforts.

**Ethiopia

Ahead of today’s elections taking place in Ethiopia, the Secretary-General urged, in a statement over the weekend, the authorities, political leaders, and their supporters, to ensure that all voters are able to cast their ballots freely and peacefully.

The Secretary-General notes that these elections are taking place in a challenging political and security environment.  He calls on all stakeholders to refrain from any acts of violence or incitement.  The Secretary-General encourages leaders and participants in the elections to promote social cohesion and reject hate speech.  He stresses that [any] electoral disputes should be resolved through dialogue and established legal channels.

**Myanmar

And a quick update on Myanmar, where the UN Country Team today again called for the immediate release of thousands of women, children and men currently in detention almost five months after the military seized control of the Government on 1 February.

As of today, the number of people arbitrarily arrested and now in detention has topped 5,000, and that’s according to the UN Human Rights Office.  In addition, nearly 2,000 people — including politicians, authors, human rights defenders, teachers, health-care workers, journalists, monks and ordinary citizens — remain in hiding due to outstanding warrants for their arrests.

In a statement over the weekend to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Myanmar said that survivors of sexual violence and their families carry the trauma of these heinous crimes.  In Myanmar, survivors — including those born of rape — live with shame, stigma and limited health and social support, and few options to seek legal redress.

UNFPA stresses that perpetrators of sexual violence must be held to account and that survivors must be provided with prompt non-discriminatory health care, legal protection and social protection.

**Energy

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke via a pre-recorded video message to the Opening of the Ministerial Thematic Forums of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy.  He said that achieving universal energy [access] is crucial for delivering on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but warned that we are running far behind in the race against time to achieve this goal.  The milestones are clear, he said.  By 2030, we must cut global emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010; and then continue to net zero by 2050.

He called on every country, city and financial institutions to raise ambition and submit “Energy Compacts” during the High-Level Dialogue on Energy on 20 September in New York.

And also, at the Forums today, the IKEA Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation announced they will join forces to set up a $1 billion global platform to reduce 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions and to provide 1 billion people with distributed renewable energy.  This is renewable energy generated from sources such as mini-grid and off-grid solutions.  Google also announced its Energy Compact, expanding its own commitment to fully operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030.

**COVID-19

We also have a COVID-19 update for you, today from Namibia and Tunisia.

Last week, Namibia reported the highest number of confirmed cases ever registered in the country to date.  Partial restrictions have been put in place for 14 days until 30 June.  Hospitals, including their intensive care units, are at full capacity, with the supply of oxygen supply concentrators being of concern.

The UN in Namibia is supporting the country on risk communications and to address the spread of misinformation, including over social media and radio, as well as to increase awareness of the vaccine.

Tunisia reported the highest COVID-19 mortality rate on the African continent.  Our colleagues there tell us that the health system is under intense pressure, with ICU (intensive care unit) beds 85 per cent occupied and a shortage of oxygen.

Currently, 9 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.  Authorities and the UN team are stepping up the vaccination campaign but are challenged by the limited supply of doses.

The UN team has helped to provide hospital equipment and personal protective items, among many others.

**Edward Mortimer

I just wanted to add that many of us here at the UN were deeply saddened to learn over the weekend of the death of Edward Mortimer.  Edward Mortimer served as head speechwriter and director of communications for Secretary-General Kofi Annan during his two terms.

As colleagues, we were fortunate to work alongside someone who had a brilliant mind, a way with words and a ready sense of humour, and who was always collegial and warm.

And as a colleague just told me, Edward had limitless talent with words, but he had no ego.  For those of you who covered the United Nations during Kofi Annan’s tenure as journalists, you will have often quoted Edward’s words, no doubt making your stories that much richer.

During a tumultuous period in world affairs, he was a trusted adviser of Secretary-General Annan.  A passionate defender of the United Nations, Edward made an imprint on many of Mr. Annan’s signature achievements and initiatives.

We are grateful to have worked with him and to have known him, and I know you share my sentiments and join me in offering sincere condolences to his wife and children.

**Financial Contribution

Lastly, as usual, on the budget, on Friday, we didn’t have a briefing, but I wanted to flag that Uganda paid its budget dues in full bringing us to 110.  Toby?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  I hope you had a nice weekend.  Following the GA resolution, following the GA resolution on Myanmar, which called for an arms embargo and various other points condemning the coup, we have the head of the Tatmadaw, Min Aung Hlaing, who went to Moscow — a signal that potentially, you know, legitimizes, I think, the political situation there.  What is the Secretary-General’s reaction to that, and does he think that this goes against what we saw in the GA?

Spokesman:  Look, the…  I will leave the analysis of the travels of the head of Tatmadaw to you and your colleagues.  There was a vote in the General Assembly.  I think that the resolution passed with the overwhelming consent of Member States.  We would hope that Member States’ policies would be guided and reflect what was in the General Assembly resolution.

Question:  And what does he want for an outcome of that meeting?

Spokesman:  Which meeting?

Correspondent:  Of the meeting between the Russian military chief and…

Spokesman:  You know, we are not involved in this meeting.  Well, our call is and remains for return to the democratic principles in Myanmar.  And I think the Secretary-General himself was very clear on that when he spoke to you on Friday.  And we would hope that every Member State speaks with the… encourages the authorities in Myanmar in the same direction.  Yes, sir?  Welcome back.

Question:  I have a question regarding the Sahel and MINUSMA (United Nations Mission in Mali) peacekeeping operation.  Last week the Head of MINUSMA addressed the Security Council, as you know.  He said, quote, Mali is at a critical juncture, and we cannot allow it to slide into further instability with drastic consequences for the sub-Saharan region and beyond.  So, my question now is in the context of what French President Emmanuel Macron said last month; he said they are considering pulling out all the 5,000 troops in the Operation Barkhane soldiers in the Sahel.  So, my question is:  What would that mean for the MINUSMA operation?  I mean, these soldiers are on the front line, 75 French soldiers have been killed over the past years.  And what is this going to do with the UN MINUSMA strategy to protect civilians?

Spokesman:  We are aware of the announcement made by the French.  I mean, the Operation Barkhane and MINUSMA have, you know, we could say complementary but very different mandates.  MINUSMA will continue to operate according to its mandate.  And, as you’ve seen, there has been absolutely no weakening of its posture, especially in the northern parts, as well as in the kind of the tri-country area, which has seen such a high level of violence against civilians.  Our call continues to be for the international community to support the people of Mali and the people of the Sahel Region to give the G5-Sahel force predictable and sustained funding.  And we will continue to work in that direction.  Okay, James Bays and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Has the Secretary-General or the Secretariat received a non-paper from the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, about cross-border arrangements in Syria?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware.  That doesn’t mean one hasn’t been received, so I will check.

Question:  Okay, well, let me just maybe summarize the main point, which is:  He says we cannot agree with assessments that there is no alternative for the cross-border mechanism in Syria.  He goes on to say:  WFP (World Food Programme) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are actively working on cross-line deliveries in Damascus.  What is the UN’s position on this?  Does it believe cross-line could replace the one cross-border crossing you’ve got from Turkey?

Spokesman:  I will reiterate our position.  I’m not responding to the paper, which I haven’t seen, though I obviously I have no reason to distrust your quotes from it.  But I haven’t seen it, so I can’t respond to it.  We will continue to hope for a continuation of the cross-border delivery through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.  It is a critical part of the lifeline.  And one can’t underscore enough, the term lifeline for the millions of Syrians who rely on our humanitarian support for daily survival, almost.

Question:  I have some other questions if you can come back to me later?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  I have two questions.  One on Libya and one on Palestine.  On Libya, this morning, the Government of National Unity announced the opening of the coastal line.  A few hours later, a representative of [Khalifa] Haftar forces in the 5+5 group said that was a unilateral decision and the coastal road is closed.  The UN was there.  And I think they were an eyewitness to that opening of the coastal line.  What you can tell us more about this development in Libya?

Spokesman:  Well, I can only speak from our end that we are, in fact, encouraged by the strong efforts of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, working with the interim executive authority to ensure that that coastal road that you mentioned is indeed open.  And, as you know, the reopening of that road is critical to the implementation of the agreements of October 2020, of the ceasefire agreement, including, obviously, very importantly, the withdrawal of foreign fighters, mercenaries, and other forces that needs to start without further delay.  We continue to intend to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, including through a phased deployment of UNSMIL (UN Mission in Libya) ceasefire monitoring component, as has been authorized by the Security Council.  And your second question?

Question:  My second question, but if you also follow up and tell us if the SG will attend the Berlin II Conference as a piece of information.  But my question is about the meeting today that took place in Gaza between Tor Wennesland, the UN representative, and the leader of Hamas, Yahya Sinwar.  Sinwar after the meeting said the meeting was a failure.  And he called for a larger meeting with the leaders of the Palestinian factions in Gaza for tomorrow.  So, what can you tell us from the UN perspective about that meeting?

Spokesman:  What was your…  On Libya, because I think you also had an…  Just to confirm that the Secretary-General will participate through a pre-recorded video message in the Libya II Conference, and we will share an advance text of that for you.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesman:  All I can tell you is that Mr. Wennesland was, in fact, in Gaza and he is continuing his efforts to solidify the cessation of hostilities, but I can’t share any more information with you.  Okay.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane, I have two questions.  One should be fairly easy, the other one a little bit more complicated.  The first one is on COVID-19.  You mentioned the Secretary-General is going to be issuing an updated letter on mission eligibility to Headquarters building.  Do you have a more specific date or time framing for when that letter is going to be issued?  And my second question is a follow-up to… Do you want to take that first?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Let me take the first one.  That should be soon.  Obviously, various options in terms of the General Assembly were presented to Member States.  It’s now up to those…to the Member States that decide which direction they want to go.  But we will have an update on Headquarters hopefully soon.  Your second question?

Question:  Yeah, the second question really follows up on some of what was discussed with Ms. [Virginia] Gamba.  And I’d like the Secretary-General’s comment on the plan by Hamas’ military wing, al-Qassam Brigades, to have 9-year-olds through high school students attend a military summer camp this summer.  A promotion video that they are showing shows children engaged in marching with guns and going out of holes armed with weapons, et cetera.  So, I’d like to know the Secretary-General’s view on what is obviously the recruitment of children in armed conflict and an acknowledgment that Israel has no such child recruitment programme.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I have not seen that particular video.  In terms of child recruitment, I would encourage you to look through the report.  Those entities that have active child recruitment are listed and very clearly.  And, obviously, those who don’t are not.  What is important, and my takeaway from Virginia’s presentation, is that children everywhere deserve to live in an environment where they are not killed, where they are not maimed, where they are not encouraged to use violence, where they are not used as human shields, and that was to me Virginia Gamba’s main message.

Question:  Would you agree that use of summer camp, which, by the way, has been done for several years and is a matter of public record, by Hamas violates the corporate…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We stand against any encouragement of the use of children in armed conflict.  Anything that would encourage recruitment of children anywhere around the world, we stand firmly against it.  Okay, Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  So very sorry to hear about Edward’s passing.  Deepest condolence.  I worked with him as a journalist and when I served the United Nations.  Do you know what happened to him?

Spokesman:  It was from a disease.  I mean, it’s listed in the obituary, which you can read in the Financial Times, I think in other places.  But thank you for those sentiments.  James Bays?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  You have a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan coming up in the next 24 hours, and clearly it is a very important time in Afghanistan.  Number one, how concerned is the Secretary-General about the security situation right now and potentially then the knock-on for the humanitarian situation?  The SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General), Deborah Lyons, I believe, rather than Jean Arnault, is doing the briefing.  Will she be speaking to reporters?  Can we expect a virtual stakeout?  These meetings, Afghanistan is not dealt with every month, it’s only dealt with quarterly, and it’s a vital time for Afghanistan; will she please face reporters?

Spokesman:  Yes, we will ask her.  And, clearly, one can only be concerned by the continuing violence that we are seeing in Afghanistan, and particularly that violence that either targets women, that targets religious minorities, and just in general targets civilians.

Question:  And I have one more question.  I’m speaking to you today from London rather than sitting in the room with you, and that’s because I haven’t received permission to return to New York from the US.  I will put on record that US-UN have been helpful, as has the Spokesman’s Office.  But the wider issue, it’s not a self-serving question entirely, is there a wider problem with those that work in the building getting permission when they want to travel?  Is there a backlog?  I believe there is a huge backlog of applications.  What is the UN’s view about those who work for the UN and the UN Headquarters under the Host Country Agreement, including resident correspondents and their ability to travel?

Spokesman:  James, I’m not aware of a backlog involving UN staff wishing to come into the US with valid visas.  I will check on the media aspect.  And I am always happy to take your questions, but I would always rather be facing you rather than looking at a large-screen TV.  So, whatever we can get you to… as much as I hate saying this, whatever we can do to make you come back in the briefing room, we will try.

Correspondent:  I have a question.

Spokesman:  Yes, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding the elections in Iran, did the Secretary-General send a congratulation message to President Raisi and was there a statement regarding the elections in general, as always, the UN does when there are elections anywhere in the world?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You know, we’ve taken note of the announcement by the electoral authorities in Iran that Ebrahim Raisi is the winner of the elections of 18 June.  The Secretary-General looks forward to the continued cooperation with the Iranian authorities on issues of mutual respect for the benefit of Iran and the people and of the region.  The usual process will be followed, I have no doubt.  But that’s usually closer to the time of inauguration, which, as far as I understand, is about six… at least six weeks from now.  Okay, thank you all.  And I’m going to get some lunch, because I’m starving.  Thank you all and see you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.