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23 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.

**Noon Briefing Guests Today

Good afternoon.  In a short while, I will be joined by our friend Achim Steiner, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), who is also the Co-Chair of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, as well as Damilola Ogunbiyi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy.  They will join us virtually to brief on the Ministerial Thematic Forums for the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, which are currently taking place.

I see they are already connected so we will do this right after you are all done with me.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

As expected, the Secretary-General arrived in Brussels this morning.  He spoke to the press alongside the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, a short while ago.  He expressed his deep gratitude and appreciation for the European Union and the European Commission’s support for the work of the United Nations.

As we see the rise in populism, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred, Mr. [António] Guterres said that he counts on the European Union to be at the forefront of the battle for what he described as the values of the Enlightenment.

Following this, the Secretary-General engaged in a conversation with the College of Commissioners of the EU.  They discussed a wide range of topics, including climate, sustainable development and pandemic recovery.  It was agreed to hold these exchanges on a more regular basis.

**Libya

The Secretary-General also spoke, but this time via a pre-recorded message to the opening of the Berlin II Conference on Libya which took place in Berlin.  He told the gathered participants that the full implementation of the Ceasefire [Agreement] is of paramount importance to consolidate peace in Libya.  He added that he was encouraged by the continued investment in confidence-building measures by both sides.

The Secretary-General said the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism and that the initial group of UN ceasefire monitors will be deployed to Tripoli soon.

He said that we must put an end to all foreign interference, including the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya.  He also urged Libyan and external parties to agree on a comprehensive plan, with clear timelines, to achieve this goal, which the UN Mission (UNSMIL) stands ready to support.

The Secretary-General urged Libya’s House of Representatives to clarify the constitutional basis for the elections and to adopt the necessary legislation.  But he also urged the interim executive authority to provide support, including financial resources, to the High National Electoral Commission.

Noting the humanitarian challenges, the Secretary-General called on Member States to support the Humanitarian Response Plan which requests $189 million to support the most vulnerable and that is just 21 per cent funded.  The video and the text were released to you.

**Syria

The Secretary-General will also speak, this time via a live video link this afternoon, to the Security Council meeting on Syria, which starts at 3 p.m.  He will be speaking from Brussels.

In those remarks, he will call for support for the most recent humanitarian appeal, which seeks $4.2 billion — that’s the UN’s largest humanitarian appeal as far as I know — to ease the country’s plight.  Another $5.8 billion is being requested to support refugees in the region.

And he will also express to the Council members how important it is to maintain and expand access, including cross-border and cross-line operations.  We’ve shared those remarks under embargo with you.

And we’re told by the US Mission to the UN that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is expected to speak to the stakeout after the Security Council meeting on [Syria].

**Economic and Social Council

This morning, the Secretary General addressed — via video message — the opening of the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

He said that in many parts of the world, the pandemic has brought suffering on top of already existing and deteriorating humanitarian crises, which are too often driven by prolonged conflict, the climate crisis and economic fragility.

He said that UN agencies, Governments and partners are scaling up to deliver food, cash, nutrition, health, and water and sanitation assistance to countries at greatest risk.  He called on all Member States to urgently provide the $35 billion needed to stop more human tragedy from unfolding.

He also urged all countries to ensure that humanitarian agencies are fully able to safely access and provide assistance to all in need.

Finally, he called on all leaders to generously support the COVAX facility, which has delivered vaccines to millions of people, noting that many more vaccines and funds are desperately needed.

**Madagascar

And I wanted to flag, now that we’re talking about humanitarian needs, the situation in Madagascar.  We are told by our humanitarian colleagues on the ground, that for the first time ever, the most alarming phase of the integrated food security classification, which is labelled a “catastrophe,” has been recorded in pockets of southern Madagascar.

Severe hunger has hit the Grand Sud area the hardest, with communities witnessing an almost total disappearance of food sources due to an exceptionally prolonged drought, the most severe in the past 10 years.

More than 1.14 million people in southern Madagascar are food insecure.  Of those, an estimated 14,000 are already in catastrophic conditions and this number will double to 28,000 by October.

The gravity of the situation has forced thousands of people to flee their homes in search of food while those remaining have resorted to extreme coping measures for survival, like foraging for wild food.  WFP (World Food Programme) said the lives of children are at stake as the nutrition situation among children under the age of 5 is deteriorating.

David Beasley, the head of WFP, visited southern Madagascar last week and said the situation is enough to bring even the most hardened humanitarian to tears.  Now is the time to stand up, and act and keep supporting the Malagasy Government to turn the tide of climate change and help save lives.

WFP said it needs nearly $80 million to provide life-saving food in the next lean season to stop a preventable tragedy from unfolding before our eyes.  We hope to bring you a senior WFP official to speak to you on Madagascar later this week.

**Afghanistan

Also, I want to flag from Afghanistan, the Government officially declared drought yesterday, with most of the country facing extreme or severe drought conditions.  This is the second drought to affect Afghanistan in four years.

The country has been facing a food insecurity and malnutrition crisis, compounded by a La Niña weather event.  Nearly a third of the country is facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity.  And nearly half of all children under 5 are expected to face acute malnutrition.

In addition to the drought, escalating conflict and a devastating new wave of COVID-19 have increased humanitarian needs and vulnerability.  This year, almost half of the population of Afghanistan, 18.4 million people, is in humanitarian need.

The UN, as was said in yesterday’s meeting, is committed to staying and delivering.

In the face of rising needs, $1.3 billion is required to help almost 16 million people through 2021 in Afghanistan.  Halfway into the year, only 23 per cent of required funds have been received.  We urge donors to pledge.

**Central African Republic

Back here in the Security Council, Council members heard from Mankeur Ndiaye the Head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there.  He expressed, among other things, his concern at the negative consequences borne out of the continuing offensive by Government forces, as well as bilateral forces and others, in the fight against rebel groups.  He noted the high level of human rights violations documented against these forces which, he said, could put at risk the progress seen in social cohesion in the country.

He also called for the Security Council’s support to the Mission as it implements its mandate in the face of growing hate speech and incitement to violence against peacekeepers and our partners in the Central African Republic.

His comments were shared with you.

**Peacekeeping

Also, I want to flag that Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of Peace Operations for the UN, is wrapping up his visit to Russia.  He will be heading off to visit the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) tomorrow.  During his four-day visit, Mr. Lacroix will meet with representatives of the two communities in the island.

He will also meet with the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Cyprus and Head of the Mission, Elizabeth Spehar, and Mission personnel.  He will visit various key locations where the Mission is deployed along the buffer zone.

**Myanmar

In Myanmar, our colleagues on the UN Country Team there said today they remain deeply concerned over the continued use of force against children, nearly five months after the military took control over the Government.

We call again on security forces to refrain from violence and keep children and young people out of harm’s way.

According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), as of this Monday, at least 60 children have reportedly been killed since February, while countless others have been seriously injured.

**Refugee Resettlement

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced today that 1.47 million refugees will be in need of resettlement this year.

They said that, despite the pandemic, wars and conflict continue to rage across the world, displacing millions and barring many from coming home.

**Widows’ Day

Today is International Widows’ Day.  In his message for the day, the Secretary-General pays attention to the importance of inheritance laws and social safety nets that should ensure that the world’s 250 million widows are protected.

Human rights, including the right to inherit and own property, should not be contingent on marital status, he says.

Citing the persecution and disinheritance of widows, by law and custom, as one of the worst examples of gender discrimination, the Secretary-General urges every country to pass and implement legislation and policies that promote gender equality, and to repeal all discriminatory laws that perpetuate women’s subjugation and exclusion.  This is a critical element of the Call to Action on Human Rights.

**Press Encounters

Other press encounters today, we expect that Members of the A3+1 Group — that’s the Ambassadors of Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — will brief reporters at the Security Council stakeout following the Security Council consultations on the Central African Republic.

And tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. in this room, there will be a briefing by Felipe Carlos Solá, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Argentina.  Pam?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There’s new… there’s a draft report from the UN IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change].  It’s not published yet, but it was leaked to a media organization.  It says that climate change will fundamentally reshape life on earth, even if humans contain planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Can you confirm that that’s what the report says?  And since it’s been leaked, is it possible to get a copy of the report?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, I can’t confirm it because I have not seen the report.  I’ve only seen the reporting on it.  The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, works outside of the Secretariat, so you would have to contact them.  I mean, I just have not seen the report being distributed.

Question:  And there’s no way the Secretariat can request this report, now that it’s out?

Spokesman:  Well, it’s done by the IPCC, so you have to… and I understand your frustration, but you have to contact the people who wrote the report… I mean, the IPCC panel.  That’s what I can tell you.

Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.

Spokesman:  Señora?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  So, Nicaragua made news yesterday and has been making news for the past three weeks, with the detentions of opposition leaders.  You have made several statements about how the Secretary-General is worried about it.  What is the next step for the Secretary-General, beyond the statement that he has made?  Human Rights Watch is calling on him to operate with Article 99.  Is it a possibility?  Is he in talks with the Government?  What can you tell us?

Spokesman:  You know, I mean, I think the Secretary-General has repeatedly said how concerned he is about this wave of arrests, the detentions that we’ve seen, the invalidation of candidacies.  It’s very important that the authorities in Nicaragua uphold international human rights obligations.  They need to release the political prisoners and social leaders, and there needs to be some sort of broad-based agreement on measures towards elections that are credible, that are transparent, that are participatory; you know, those… the elections that have [been] scheduled for November.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed her views, which are very much in line and very clear, in line with what the Secretary-General said and very clear.  And we always stand ready to engage with the authorities.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Wouldn’t this be a time to involve the Security Council?  [Daniel] Ortega has not shown any signs to ease up his actions.  And also, he has just redoubled with implementation… journalists, our own journalists, have been questioned and taken.  So, what is… would Article 99 would be a way to do it?  Maybe not openly, but in a way of getting the Security Council…?

Spokesman:  I think we’ve expressed our concerns very clearly on the situation, both publicly and privately to Member States.  I will leave it at that.

Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, did the Secretary-General talk with the Ambassador of China about the closures and the arrest of journalists in Hong Kong?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General, as far as I know, has not had a contact with the Ambassador of China.  We have expressed our opinion on this and also reiterated the need that… reiterated our principle, which the Secretary-General said even to all of you — I think the day of his election — which is that independent media is really a pillar of an open and participatory society.

Question:  I have another question.  Talking about human rights.  Now, that we have a new, not-so-new Secretary-General, will Aurora [Akanksha], the young lady who wanted to become Secretary-General, be able to go back to work without facing retaliation?

Spokesman:  I think she took, from what I understand, a leave of absence from her employers.  There is, I mean… the Secretary-General, in no way, was involved… I mean has had no contact or discussion about her employment status.  She decided, from what I gather, to take special leave without pay.  Of course, she’s… there’s no question about her status or anything to that matter.

Kristen, and then we’ll go to some in the back.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Has the Secretary-General seen this terrible air strike in Tigray that’s killed dozens of people?  Experts have told Al Jazeera that the only entity responsible is… could be the Ethiopian Government.  Given concerns about the humanitarian situation there, is there any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  We’ve definitely seen the reports, and I don’t need to tell you the Secretary-General is deeply alarmed by what he’s seen, by the reports of civilian casualties on this air strike, which reportedly took place yesterday in Togoga.

You know, our focus right now has been… initial focus has been on trying to get life-saving interventions.  Some of the most critically wounded people, from what we gather, were evacuated by ambulances last night and this morning.  We have requested access to the area to assess the situation and see how we can provide assistance, but so far, we have not been able to.  The situation in the area remains very, very volatile.  It’s important that everyone engaged in fight doing their utmost to protect civilians, to obey international humanitarian law.

Once again, we want to see an end to all hostilities in the region.  We want to see greater access for humanitarian workers.  Frankly, from what we’ve seen here, things are not going in the right direction, to say the least.

Ibtisam and then Benno.

Question:  First on Libya.  So, according to news report, the… the Foreign Minister in Berlin, he said that there is some movement, positive development, regarding foreign fighters.  Are you aware of that?

And then also what do you… what… could you update us on the UN Mission, the observers in Libya and what’s happening there?

And then I have something about Syria.

Spokesman:  I mean, we’ve seen what the Foreign Minister said.  I have nothing to confirm or… you know, one way or another to corroborate what she said.

We want to see that kind of… it’s very important for us to see that kind of progress.  We’ve been calling for a long time for foreign fighters, mercenaries — however you want to call them — to leave Libya.  As the Secretary-General said, we expect an initial dispatch of UN staff, for observers to be dispatched to Tripoli soon.  But I have no exact date for you.

Question:  Syria.  And the meeting today.  As you know, all Security Council meetings on the humanitarian issue in Syria, Russia and also, China, are doubting, actually, the need of the cross-border aid.  What’s your message to them?  Especially that they don’t seem to be convinced of what you are saying?  What do you say to them?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the Secretary-General, I think, has made his position very clear, that we feel we need the continued access to north-west Syria through the cross-border operation, that it is a critical, critical element in providing humanitarian assistance to millions of men, women and children who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.  We are also working on cross-border… sorry, on cross-line deliveries, but there’s been… I think, as we all know, very little progress on that front.  That will be the Secretary-General’s message today at the Security Council in front of all the members of the Security Council.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Have you been, like, involved with them directly on this issue to try to move…?

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary-General made this point publicly and privately in recent meetings with key Member States on this issue.  [inaudible comment from the crowd]  Yes, he did.  Yes, he did.

Okay.  Benno?

Question:  This is pretty much what Ibtisam was asking, as well.  We saw that oral note from Mr. [Sergey] Lavrov to the SG, and I wonder if the SG actually answered to that.  The note, basically, I think laid the groundwork for Russia vetoing everything till… for an extension of that resolution.  So, was there any direct answer to that oral note that came…?

Spokesman:  There’s an ongoing dialogue between the Secretariat and Member States that are critical to this… to what we hope will be a positive outcome to extend the resolution.

Again, I would urge you to read what the Secretary-General will say this afternoon, which I think, in itself, it’s not… it’s a declaration of what his position is, and you can do the compare-and-contrast.

Okay.  Let’s go to the screen.  See if we have any questions.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question about Syria, the same question or follow-up on the humanitarian cross-border.  The secretary… Foreign Minister, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said there’s absolutely no need for that cross-border.  He also talked about an intentional sabotage of coordinated efforts to send humanitarian aid basically through Damascus to north-west Syria.

Do you confirm that and what is your response for the Russians when they say there’s no need for the cross-border?  You can do that through Damascus?

Spokesman:  I think I’ve answered this question quite a few times over the last couple of days.  You have what the Secretary-General will say.  You’ve seen what he has said repeatedly.  You’ve seen what Mark Lowcock has said, and other humanitarian officials.  We feel that there is a critical need for the continuation of access to the cross-border checkpoint through between Turkey and Syria to access the millions of people who need humanitarian aid.  That’s our position.  It’s based on our assessment of the situation on the ground, and I can assure you from the UN’s side, no one is trying to sabotage anything.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Michelle and then Carrie.  Michelle Nichols?  Okay.  Carrie, do you want to go ahead?  Carrie Nooten.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Could you hear me well?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Super.  Can we know a bit more, please, about Jean-Pierre Lacroix’s trip, the goal of his visit in Russia, please?  Who he met?  That would be interesting.  And how it is linked to the situation in Central African Republic, where Russian mercenaries on site have been said to misbehave more and more against MINUSCA personnel and “blue helmets”.  Has Mr. Lacroix asked Moscow for better management of their Russian instructors?

Spokesman:  Mr. Lacroix was there to represent the United Nations at an annual security conference that is held in Moscow, so that was the reason why he was there.  While he was there, he met with senior Russian Defence Ministry officials to discuss issues, obviously, related to peacekeeping but also, issues related to the safety of peacekeepers in the field.

Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  Sorry, Steph…

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Including Central African Republic?  But it has been particularly… I mean, it was discussed this morning again at… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  This is where… I mean, I think the issue of safety of peacekeepers in Central African Republic was laid out by Mr. Ndiaye during this morning’s briefing.  As for what Mr. Lacroix discussed, I will leave it that he discussed the safety of peacekeepers, as well as other general peacekeeping missions.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid, and then we’ll try Michelle Nichols again.  And then we’ll go to our guest.

Question:  All right, thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, but three also to answer, if you have an answer to my question yesterday about the WHO (World Health Organization) and the 1 million vaccines that Israel sold to the PA, and they were expired.

Spokesman:  No, the answer was that for you to contact WHO.  I don’t have anything else from my end.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Your question, sir?

Question:  My question.  The Foreign Minister of Sudan sent a letter to the Security Council calling for an urgent meeting or a meeting as soon as possible on the Renaissance Dam.  Have you seen the letter, Stéphane, and can you share some of the information in the letter?  And if you expect the Security Council to meet based on that request.

Spokesman:  I have not… sorry, I have not seen the letter.  The letter… request for a meeting I assume will be addressed to the Presidency of the Council, so you may want to check with the Estonian Permanent Mission.  As soon as a mission… as a meeting is announced, we’ll obviously confirm that.  It will be on the schedule.

Question:  And my second question about Afghanistan.  The US is the third super-Power that was defeated in Afghanistan, if I can call that.  England was defeated between 1839 and 1842.  Russia, the Soviet Union stayed there 10 years between 1979 and 1989, and now, the US after 20 years, is leaving without making any real success there.

So, is there a lesson that the UN can take about foreign domination and foreign intervention and foreign occupation?

Spokesman:  Listen, I barely made it through university so I’m not going to engage in a lengthy discussion on the history of Afghanistan, which we all know.

I mean, in all seriousness, the UN’s message is that everyone needs to think first and foremost about the people of Afghanistan, and we need to be there to support them.  The UN and its partners, as was said very clearly by Deborah Lyons, will stay, and we are staying and we are delivering for the people of Afghanistan and our only focus is the well-being of the people of Afghanistan, with a special focus, obviously, on the rights of women, which have made gains recently in Afghanistan.  We want to make sure that the status of women, the status of minorities, does not go backwards in any way, shape or form.

Okay.  We will now go to our guests…

Correspondent:  Steph?

Spokesman:  Yes?  Yes.  Sorry, Michelle.  Go ahead and then we’ll go to Achim.

Question:  Sorry… sorry… sorry about that, I was monitoring the GA at the same time.  Apologies if someone’s already asked this, but to follow up to Ibtisam’s question on Syria.  Who from Russia and China has the SG raised the issue of cross-border aid into Syria?

Spokesman:  There are contacts held on a regular basis, whether it’s the Secretary-General or others in the Secretariat with the counterparts.  So, I will leave it at that.

Question:  But I guess I’m like, how involved is he in pushing for this, given that the heads of UN agencies put out a strong statement on Friday?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General, I think, has been very clear, very focused, and has raised it in his meetings with all key interlocutors on this issue.  And I think the Secretariat has been speaking with one voice on it.

Question:  But does he feel the need to get on the phone with the foreign ministers of Russia or China yet?

Spokesman:  As I said, it has been discussed at very high levels.

Correspondent:  Okay.  If you can shed any particular light on those high levels, we would appreciate it.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Achim, can you hear us?

For information media. Not an official record.