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.
All right. Good afternoon to all of you. Sorry for the delay. Hopefully tomorrow we will all be back in the building.
I think as you’ve all been following, this morning the Security Council held closed consultations on Myanmar. In her briefing to Council members, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, strongly condemned the recent steps taken by the military. She urged Council members to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar. The Special Envoy said that, given the apparent commitment by the military to safeguard the rule of law following the 8 November 2020 elections, this turn of events was surprising and shocking. She said she had been in contact with the military leadership as recently as one day before the takeover. They said that communication had been ongoing with the Government and Union Election Commission. The Special Envoy also called for the immediate release of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and dozens of political leaders, family members and activists who have been detained. She reiterated that this is a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar. Ms. Schraner Burgener said that the declaration of the Statement of Emergency and the arrest of civilian leadership are unconstitutional and illegal. It will be crucial for all to refrain from violence, fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, she said, stressing that we cannot allow for a full backsliding since Myanmar opened up in 2011.
Turning to Sudan, the head of the new UN Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) has arrived in the country. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Volker Perthes, said he looked forward to working with the transitional authorities and the people of Sudan. He added that he will devote his energy to supporting Sudan to achieve its goals of democratic transformation, peace and economic recovery.
And on South Sudan, both the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today welcomed the Government’s decision to set up transitional justice institutions. The Special Adviser, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, said this is a crucial step towards establishing accountability for serious human rights violations. Many of these may constitute atrocity crimes that took place since the conflict started in December 2013. The Government’s decision also includes setting up the African Union Hybrid Court for South Sudan. For its part, OHCHR said that, over many years, victims of extremely grave human rights violations have awaited the implementation of these key mechanisms of justice, truth, and remedy. More information online.
Today, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said that close to 500 human rights violations and abuses were documented between June and September of last year. These violations have led to the death of 176 people, including 13 children and 8 women. The data presented in this new human rights report shows a 23 per cent decrease compared to the previous period. The human rights situation was also affected by violations attributable to the Malian defence and security forces, as well as to international forces in the context of military operations and the fight against terrorism taking place in the central and northern regions. Close to 200 of the violations documented are attributable to the Malian defence and security forces; 7 to the joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel).
Turning to Iraq, I just want to flag that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, visited Tehran on 31 January and 1 February, where she held talks with Iranian officials on regional issues as part of efforts to support stability in Iraq. She has visited a number of regional countries, including Iran, before. This is part of her efforts to further the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq’s (UNAMI) mandate under Security Council resolution 2522 (2020), which includes the facilitation of regional dialogue and cooperation.
A quick update from Madagascar, where our colleagues are doing to address the pandemic. The UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Issa Sanogo, continues to support national efforts. The team is focusing on protecting children and vulnerable families. The UN provided $1.5 million towards primary health care, benefiting 1 million children under the age of five. More than 600,000 children received self-learning booklets as part of the back-to-school programme. Meantime, more than 100,000 classrooms have been disinfected. On the social protection front, the UN team provided more than 400,000 families with cash to help cushion the economic impact of the pandemic. Also, we delivered 40 cisterns as part of efforts to improve access to drinking water and improve hygiene conditions. Some 800,000 people in the areas worst affected by COVID-19 in five cities have been reached.
A quick humanitarian update from Fiji, where our colleagues tell us that Tropical Cyclone Ana made landfall in the island nation two days ago. In support of the Government-led response efforts, 39 assessment teams supported by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs were deployed to affected areas to start collecting more information on the impact of the Cyclone. No request for international assistance has been made at this stage. We of course stand by ready to support further with the humanitarian response.
**Children on the Move
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the European Union today announced the launch of a joint programme to protect children on the move in Central America, Mexico and Southern Africa. The 30-month programme, which has received $8.4 million from the European Union, will be implemented across four [countries] in two regions. UNICEF and UNHCR will jointly work with national Governments and civil society organizations in those areas to ensure that children are protected and to provide alternative care options to immigration detention.
A new report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says the number of children among detected trafficking victims has tripled in the last 15 years. During this same period, the number of boy victims has increased five times. Girls are mainly trafficked for sexual exploitation, while boys are used for forced labour. In 2018, according to UNODC, about 50,000 human trafficking victims were detected and reported by 148 countries. However, given the hidden nature of this crime, the actual number of victims trafficked is expected to be far higher. The report also said that the COVID-19-induced recession is likely to expose more people to the risk of trafficking. More information online.
A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome says that global fisheries and aquaculture have been hard hit by the pandemic. These could face further disruption this year as lockdowns affect supply and demand. The impact has been significant in developing countries, especially those with large informal sectors. More information online.
I think you also heard the sad news that we learned a short while ago about the passing of Sir Captain Thomas Moore. On behalf of the Secretary-General, I wanted to express our deepest condolences to the family of the late Captain Thomas Moore. During this pandemic, his selflessness, compassion, and determination to help others was an inspiration to people everywhere and will remain so. As you may recall the Secretary-General spoke to Captain Tom on 30 April 2020 to wish him a happy 100th birthday and to congratulate him on his record-breaking campaign in the UK to raise funds for COVID care.
Lastly, I want to say a big thank you to our friends in Manama in Bahrain as they become the twenty-sixth country to join the Honour Roll. All right. Let's switch to the more interactive part of this dialogue, and let's see who is interested in chatting with us. Edie? All right. Let's go to James, and then Edie, we'll get her mojo…
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: I hope you're hearing me okay, Steph.
Spokesman: Yes, I am.
Correspondent: I've got a few WiFi issues, but that's because I'm using UN WiFi. So…
Spokesman: Oh, James.
Question: Anyway, if I could ask more about Myanmar… so, we've seen the statement that the Special Envoy gave to the Security Council, but she seemed to have given fresh information than later in the Security Council meeting about what the UN or what she had learned about Aung San Suu Kyi. Could you tell us about that information that she's now been released from detention, is still being detained in… at home under house arrest?
Spokesman: Well, that's the reports that we've seen, but I think whether detention or house arrest, the results remain the same, and she and the others need to be released.
Question: Am I better now, Steph?
Spokesman: Edie, you're always good, but you are better now.
Correspondent: Well, at least…
Correspondent: Steph, Steph, sorry. I had breakup again on the UN WiFi. I'm assuming you answered my… because when I heard you, your answer to my question was… then Edie was talking. You did answer my question cleanly? Because I need it for the television.
Spokesman: Yes, I did.
Question: Steph, mine is also a follow‑up on Myanmar. What contact has the Secretary‑General had with anyone in Myanmar, aside from the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General]? And is she in Myanmar, or is she out of the country? And if she's out of the country, is she going… trying to go back?
Spokesman: The Special Envoy is currently in Europe. Two challenges to travel. First is, obviously, the political situation, plus COVID-19, so I'm not aware of any plans for her to travel. I know she has been trying to raise her regular interlocutors in the country. As far as I know, that has not been 100 per cent successful. She's also spoken to others outside of the country, but communications remain a very big challenge.
Question: And the Secretary‑General, has he tried to talk to any ranking officials in China, for example, if he hasn't been able to talk to anyone in Myanmar itself?
Spokesman: No, there's been no successful contact with anyone in Myanmar, and he is speaking to other interlocutors on the issue. All right. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Steph, on the briefing on 27 January, many speakers on Palestine, [inaudible] Palestine. Many speakers mentioned that Israeli are preventing the vaccine from reach the Palestinian, and they ask Israel to cooperate. Now, WHO [World Health Organization], I think, is picking up the pieces and sending some vaccine to the Palestinian, but my question is that… I’m reading from Haaretz, and it said on 1 February, Israeli police fined only Arab passengers for not wearing seat belts on public bus. Passengers say officer say conducting inspection was deliberately discriminating and not [inaudible]. If that is not apartheid, then what is apartheid?
Spokesman: Abdelhamid, you're breaking up. You were reading a long passage. Just if you have a direct question, let…
Question: Okay. Briefly… briefly, Israeli police is giving summons to Arab passengers only if they're not wearing seat belts on buses, skipping Jewish passengers. That is what Haaretz wrote. If that is not apartheid, then what is apartheid, Stéphane?
Spokesman: No, that… I haven't seen the article. I think… somebody has children in the background. It's a bit distracting. I have not seen the article, and I think we've… I can look at it, but we've expressed our concern multiple times about the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Toby?
Question: Hi. Thanks very much, Stéphane. Just two questions for you, once again on Myanmar. Since communication is nearly impossible with the country itself, I'm wondering if there has been any contact with the UN office in Bangkok in Thailand and if they have anything to report or any information to give us. And the second question is, just on the nature of classification of these events, I think you used the word "steps", but is the UN regarding this as a coup or a cabinet reshuffle, as it's been put euphemistically in some places? What… what's the terminology that you are considering for this?
Spokesman: Look, I think you could describe this as a coup, as steps taken by the military. The point is that the result is unconstitutional, is antidemocratic and is a reversal of the will expressed by the people of Myanmar. On Bangkok, we have… I think our Special Envoy has the most up‑to‑date information that she gets from various sources. Erol. Erol?
Question: You hear me now?
Question: Okay. Edie asked my question, but I have… in general, is the Secretary‑General planning to do more public diplomacy, and in public, call those leaders in question from Beijing to Myanmar to even Moscow now with the situation there and urge in principle for what UN is urging all the time?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General's message in public, which I think you can clearly read from his priorities speech to the General Assembly to what he said at the press conference, is often very much the same in private and public. Dulcie, you had a question.
Correspondent: I had a follow‑up but I can turn back.
Spokesman: Go ahead. Then we'll go to Dulcie.
Question: Okay. So, I also have… when it comes to hate speech, as the Secretary‑General launch his initiative in May 2019, is he willing to call people, for ex… to call officials in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina and urge adoption of the law against negating of the genocide? What can he do that as a concrete step to help stop the hate speech?
Spokesman: Look, I think the negation of atrocities, the negation of suffering, historically, is not something that is productive in any way, shape or form. And he has spoken out about it and will continue to do so. On the specific situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I will try to get a bit more details. Dulcie? Okay. I don't know if Dulcie is… all right. Let me go to Gloria. Then I'll come back to Dulcie. Otherwise, I'll take a question from the chat.
Question: Yeah. My question is… and I appreciate the statistics, the victims who have been violated by the sex and slave trading, but what about the slave traders themselves? Nowadays, today, on LinkedIn, we can find everything we want about you, Steph, and everybody else. Are they collecting data worldwide today for the people who are committing these crimes?
Spokesman: No, I think… UNODC is a source of information you want to look at, in terms of everything having to do with trafficking and traffickers — the traffic victims and the traffickers, as well. Dulcie, are you able to un‑mute? No. Okay. She was asking for a reaction to the passing of Peg Snyder, the… one of the founding members of UNIFEM. And obviously, we send our condolences to her family and recognise Ms. Snyder's ground‑breaking efforts in moving forward a feminist agenda and moving forward the voices of women within the UN system and on the global stage. Okay. Any other questions? Wave your… sign if… oh, Iftikhar and Abdelhamid. Yeah, go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Do you have any report from Cox's Bazar? What has been the reaction among the Rohingya refugees about this military coup in Myanmar?
Spokesman: No, I don't have any reaction. I think it's not for us to report on their reaction. Obviously, it's clear that this will not help in the ultimate… in a return soon for the Rohingya refugees. It will not help in establishing a voluntary, safe and dignified return to a place that is safe. Plus, we're very concerned about the plight of the Rohingyas that remain in Rakhine State, and we'll continue to advocate for them, to advocate for their freedom of movement, to access… advocate for their access to services, and to find a durable solution for them. All right. Célhia, I think you had a question? Oh, sorry… go ahead, Abdelhamid.
Question: Yeah. Thank you. I want to ask if you have any update from Geneva about the meeting led by Stephanie Williams. Is there any progress towards the election of…?
Spokesman: No… there's no… no, no update. They will update us as things become clearer, either through us or through their Twitter. Okay. I see Mr. [Brenden] Varma, who actually made the effort of wearing a tie today, which was not my case. But, Brenden, you look sharp, and it's all yours.