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.
We are going to start with a statement from the Secretary-General of these United Nations on the United States’ decision to re-engage with the UN Human Rights Council.
**Human Rights Council
The Secretary-General welcomes the decision of the United States of America to re-engage with the UN Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council is the world’s leading forum for addressing the full range of human rights challenges. The Council’s mechanisms and special procedures are vital tools for ensuring action and accountability.
The United Nations looks forward to hearing the crucial voice of the United States across the Council’s urgent work.
And this morning, the Secretary-General briefed Member States on the forthcoming UN Climate change Conference, which will take place in Glasgow, in Scotland, in the United Kingdom, as you know [later this] year.
He welcomed the incoming COP (Conference of Parties) President, Alok Sharma of the United Kingdom, and thanked the countries who have announced bold new commitments since the Climate Ambition Summit in December.
However, he said, the world remains way off target in staying within the 1.5° limit of the Paris Agreement. He stressed the need for the global coalition for net zero emissions to grow exponentially.
The Secretary-General said that by COP26 at the latest, all countries need to come forward with significantly more ambitious nationally determined contributions. He added that members of the G20 must lead the way.
The Secretary-General also emphasized that because of the pandemic, preparatory negotiations for COP26 will need to take place virtually. He called for countries’ flexibility in this matter. He said the UN will support this process in every way possible to ensure its success.
And an update on Ethiopia: UN agencies today received approval from the Government for 25 international staff to move to the Tigray region.
This clearance is a first step towards ensuring that aid workers in Tigray can deliver and ramp up the response given the rapidly rising needs in the region.
As we told you, there have been a number of recent positive engagements with the Government of Ethiopia by senior UN officials, including the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, Gilles Michaud, and the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, as well as recently, with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley.
Mr. Beasley has just wrapped up a trip to Ethiopia, and he says that WFP has accepted the Government’s request to help authorities and aid partners transport aid into and within Tigray. WFP has also agreed to provide emergency food aid for up to 1 million people in Tigray. More in the press release from the World Food Programme.
Humanitarian workers are looking forward to receiving approval for the remaining 60 NGO and UN staff who are in Addis Ababa and are ready to deploy to Tigray, as well as for rapid approvals of any additional requests put forward in the period ahead.
While we welcome these clearances, we remain deeply concerned about the significant escalation in humanitarian needs in Tigray where people have endured more than three months of conflict with extremely limited assistance. We are also very concerned by reports of grave violations against civilians that we continue to receive.
We reiterate our call for the full resumption of free and unconditional access for humanitarian supplies and personnel to the Tigray region — including through blanket clearances for organizations operating in the area — so that we can immediately reach all the people in need with all the assistance they urgently require.
And UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has begun a two-day visit to Iran. Today, he met with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other Iranian officials.
They exchanged views on Yemen and how to make progress towards the resumption of the political process. Mr. Zarif and Mr. Griffiths further discussed the urgent need to make progress towards a nationwide ceasefire, the opening of Sana’a airport and the easing of restrictions on Hudaydah ports. Mr. Griffiths welcomed the expression of Iran’s support towards the UN’s efforts to end the conflict in Yemen.
The visit is part of the Special Envoy’s diplomatic efforts to support a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Yemen that meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people. The Special Envoy’s immediate priority is to support agreement between the parties to the conflict on a nationwide ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process.
As you will have seen over the weekend, we welcomed the announcement that the United States intends to revoke the designations of the Houthi movement, or Ansar Allah, as they refer to themselves, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
I’ve been asked by a number of you for an update on the situation in Myanmar and our involvement, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General continues to follow the situation in Myanmar closely and with grave concern. He and his Special Envoy have been reaching out to key international actors, including regional leaders, in calling for collective and bilateral action to create conditions for the recent coup in Myanmar to be reversed. We welcome the fact that there are discussions for a Human Rights Council special session to take place soon, which will help to keep the momentum following the Security Council’s 2 February discussion.
The Secretary-General and his Special Envoy will continue to mobilize the international community, including through engaging members of the Security Council to carry out calls for a return to democracy, pursuance of dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar, and for the immediate release of those detained. We remain in close contact with national actors, including civil society organizations whose protection is paramount. We are concerned at the restrictions on civil society, journalists and media workers.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy remains prepared to visit under agreeable conditions to help calm the situation. Her many exchanges over the weekend included a virtual meeting with elected parliamentarians of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).
On India, you will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday, in which the Secretary-General said he is deeply saddened by the reported loss of life and dozens missing following the glacier burst and subsequent flooding in Uttarakhand state.
The Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of India.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that at least 170 people are missing, and 14 people have reportedly died.
The UN stands ready to contribute to the ongoing rescue and assistance efforts, if requested.
**Central African Republic
The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tells us that the National Assembly in the CAR extended the State of Emergency for six months on Friday, due to security concerns.
Over the weekend, the Government held a series of events to mark the second anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement, in coordination with the UN, the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the guarantors of the Peace Agreement.
The President, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, declared the Government’s commitment to continue the implementation of the Agreement and reaffirmed his readiness for a dialogue with the democratic opposition.
The Special Representatives of the UN Secretary-General, Mankeur Ndiaye, for his part, continues to pursue his good offices and political facilitation to engage with all parties to encourage dialogue and consensus, while the Mission continues to maintain a robust posture to protect civilians.
On Friday, the Mission and local authorities launched a Community Violence Reduction programme near Bria, in the Haute-Kotto Prefecture. Sixty-eight weapons were collected from civilians.
And some good news from Sudan, where we are told that a blockade of key roads to Geneina, the regional capital of West Darfur, was lifted yesterday. The lifting of the blockade, which lasted several weeks, will allow humanitarian organizations to scale up assistance to people displaced by the recent violence in West Darfur, both inside and outside Geneina.
To date, over 67,000 internally displaced people who are in Geneina have received food for one month as well as water, non-food items, and health services.
A rapid needs assessment of three affected villages outside Geneina is planned for tomorrow, with 45,000 people estimated to need assistance.
An operational response plan is also being finalized to assist 100,000 people in West Darfur. The plan’s priorities include protection, water and sanitation, hygiene, shelter and education. The UN’s Sudan Humanitarian Fund has provided $1.3 million for the response.
Overall, humanitarian organizations need $1.9 billion to assist 8.9 million people across the country in 2021.
**COVID-19 — Indonesia
And lastly, an update on what our colleagues are doing in Indonesia to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Resident Coordinator, Valerie Julliand, the UN team is supporting national efforts to vaccinate 80 per cent of Indonesia’s population in the next 13 months — that’s more than 216 million people.
The UN team are working to prepare and include Indonesia in the COVAX facility. The World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting the vaccine roll-out and has trained more than 23,000 health workers so far.
WHO has helped to finalize a vaccine introduction road map and technical guidelines. Vaccine safety surveillance has been strengthened to monitor and respond to any potential risks.
More than 780,000 health-care workers have been safely vaccinated across the country so far.
Meanwhile, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is working with the Government to prepare and deploy the vaccine rollout. This includes procuring the vaccines through COVAX, as well as strengthening cold chain capacity and financing, among other areas. UNICEF is also working to engage communities on accepting the vaccine and on data and analytics on registrations for the vaccine and monitoring to those who [have received it].
**Questions and Answers
Mr. Bays and then Célhia.
Question: I have two quick follow‑ups and then a question. So, follow‑ups on two of the things that you mentioned. Myanmar, there’s now, it seems, in various different areas, and it seems to be a rolling thing, they’re introducing a curfew, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., and they are banning any gatherings of more than five people. What is the Secretariat… what’s the Secretary‑General’s reaction?
Spokesman: Look, I think all those measures are concerning. Measures that limit people’s ability to speak up, to demonstrate freely are concerning. We’ve also seen reports of rolling blackouts of Internet network, which I think undermine core democratic principles and also heighten the pressure on the private sector, because you then have ATMs that don’t function; you have transportation that has challenges.
Question: Second follow‑up is on Yemen. You talked about positive diplomacy going on, but what reports does the UN have on negative stuff, which is apparently renewed fighting around Marib?
Spokesman: Let me just say I don’t have any with me from here. Doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but let me check. I’ve not been briefed or given information on that.
Question: Okay. So, my question is about Somalia. Today… well, this year was supposed to be the year that Somalia had one-person, one-vote elections. Of course, they were… decided to get rid of those and do indirect elections instead. Those indirect elections were supposed to happen for Parliament in December and for the President today. Neither election has happened.
What is the UN’s response to that and to the re… what is their response to many of the opposition candidates who have come together and now said that they believe that the Government is now illegitimate?
Spokesman: Look, we believe there’s still room and need for a political solution. I think the events that we’ve seen today, notably what you just referred to, are very concerning to our colleagues in Somalia and the political Mission there.
Along with a number of international partners, the UN in Somalia today issued a statement welcoming the recent efforts and progress made by the Somali President and the Federal Member State leaders to find common ground on the implementation of the September electoral model. We believe it’s still possible. We also believe that dialogue among all the parties involved is essential to have a clear and broad agreement on the way forward.
Question: Is the Government legitimate? You haven’t answered that.
Spokesman: It is not for the United Nations, in any setting, to anoint a Government, declare it legitimate or non‑legitimate. There are institutions that are in place that have been agreed to, that have been negotiated.
We believe that Somali political leaders need to come together to support the institutions that they have worked so hard to create, and we still believe there is room for them to find common ground and to renew support for processes that they’d all agreed to.
Célhia and then Philippe.
Question: Last Friday, some 9 or 10 Malian soldiers were killed in an attack by jihadists on Malian army camp in the village of Boni. And to carry out this attack, they used an armoured vehicle, UNAMID [sic] car, meaning that, you know, the soldier, the Malian soldier, did not feel unsafe. I did not hear anything about it. There was no press for this, nothing. Do you know why?
Spokesman: No. I will check. I have not been given anything, but it’s a very good question. I will check.
Mr. Rater, yeah.
Question: Two question. Last Friday, António Guterres talk about a new schedule for the withdrawal of mercenaries in Libya. What is this new schedule? What is the new date, or maybe it’s secret.
And second question on Haiti. Any comments on the crisis? Do you think the President is still legitimate? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, on Haiti, I will tell you that we’re, obviously… both the Secretary‑General and the team on the ground are following the situation with worry and with concern. I think it’s very important that all stakeholders address their differences through peaceful means.
We also have seen the reports and [are] very much aware that the Haitian National Police is investigating 23 people who have been arrested over the weekend for allegedly plotting a coup. We’re waiting and interested in seeing what the results of that investigation is.
In terms of the term of the President, we’re aware of the discussions regarding the presidential term of office. I think it’s worth recalling that President Jovenel Moïse was elected in November 2016 following the annulment of the initial presidential polls in October of the previous year. He was sworn in on 2017 in February for a five‑year term.
On Libya, what I can tell you is that the issues you raised are really… that are under discussions with the Libyan parties through the Joint… the JMC (Joint Military Committee). The discussions have been going on. It will be for them to establish and then to respect any timelines.
Yep. We’ll clear the room. Then we’ll go to screen.
Question: This is [indiscernible name] from China’s [inaudible] Television. The question is about Iranian nuclear deal, because yesterday on the aired interview, the US President, Joe Biden, said that he will not lift economic sanctions against Iran until Iran complies all the terms from the 2015 nuclear deal.
However, before that, the Supreme Leader of Iran, actually, [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, he said that Iran would only return to compliance if the US first lift economic sanctions. So, it seems like a dead end. What’s the reaction from the Secretary‑General about this issue?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, we’ve seen the conflicting statements. It’s not for us to negotiate on behalf of those parties. What is important for us is that all countries that have been involved in the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), I think, support the JCPOA. It was a milestone diplomatic achievement. All of the parties have responsibilities under the agreement, including the Iranians, who have to respect the commitments made. But we would very much hope that the international community and that those who signed on to the JCPOA do what they can to support it and, in a sense, revive it.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Secretary [Antony] Blinken, this morning, said in a statement that the United Nations Human Rights Council is flawed and needs reforms. Do you agree with this statement as the UN?
And also, another question, yesterday, Saudi Arabia said that it intercepted an armed drone launched by Houthi militia.
Spokesman: On your second, I’ll check on those reports. We have always firmly condemned any attacks on Saudi soil and Saudi airspace, but we’ll check on those reports.
We will be the first to admit that any part of the United Nations can always be better, but I think any flaws that exist in the Human Rights Council are addressed by active engagement of the Member States, whether it’s United States or any other country, and I think that’s one of the reasons the Secretary‑General welcomes the call by the secur… the decision by the United States to re‑engage with the Human Rights Council.
It is better for all Member States to be on the inside and to come to agreement to strengthen the Human Rights Council, to strengthen the protection of human rights, which we have seen, especially over the last few years, often take a step backwards throughout the world.
Okay. Erol, I see you waving your arms. I assume you have a question, or you’re just exercising.
Question: No, no, I was exercising this morning anyhow. Thank you. I got few, but I’m choosing this one not to take time to my colleagues. According to Duke Global Health Centre in North Carolina, many people in low‑income countries might have to wait until 2023 or 2024 to get their vaccine. I know the Secretary‑General talked so much about inequality, but what can he do on the ground, actually, with the UN teams, especially in the Western Balkans, for example, where all five out of six countries there are waiting or are late with the vaccines?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, this study from Duke is just yet another study that underscores the risk of a grow… of a yawning gap of vaccine access between the haves and the have‑nots. And it is in no one’s interest, whether it’s on moral grounds, where we think, obviously, everybody should have a vaccine, but it is not in the enlightened self‑interest of the haves to exclude the have‑nots from the vaccine. We will all need to be protected in order for all of us to be protected.
We, again, call on Member States to support the COVAX Facility or any other way to get vaccines to poorer countries or least developed or developing or middle‑income countries. The UN teams on the ground stand ready to work with Governments and to help them access COVAX once they have vaccines to ensure the distribution and the fair distribution and all the support they need. I mean, this is what we’ve been updating you about regularly, just today on Indonesia on what we’re doing. So, we remain the availability of any Member State to help them, including in the Western Balkans.
Okay. [cross talk] James Reinl and then… sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Can I… Okay. But the COVAX was delayed with their distribution, especially in the Europe… within the Europe and European Union, and many people… many countries from Western Balkans complain about that. What can you do regarding that?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, listen, the European Union and countries who have been associated or working in partnership with the European Union, I think, need to work out the kinks that exist. We are there to support in any way we can.
James Reinl and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two little questions. First one, can you give us an update on the new Libya envoy, Ján Kubiš, and when he’s going to be starting work and taking on his responsibilities?
Second question, over the next week, starting tomorrow, there are three space probes from Earth reaching orbit around Mars. One’s from the US, one from China and one from the UAE (United Arab Emirates). It’s more of a heads‑up, but is the SG going to make any statement about this? You know, man’s quest into the stars, all that kind of thing. Thank you.
Spokesman: Ah, yes, all that kind of thing. On your first question, my understanding is that Mr. Kubiš started his work today, taking over from Stephanie Williams, who I think has been rightly thanked by a number of people, including the Secretary‑General and many others for the amazing work that she has done.
On the space probes, yes, we’ve… I think one key message to underscore is that the exploration of space should be done for peaceful purposes, should be done in a way that is cooperative, that is shared and for the benefit of all people on Earth and whoever may be on Mars. [laughter]
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two brief questions. Today, or yesterday, I think, Egyptian authorities released journalist Mahmoud Hussein of Al Jazeera after more than four years of detention without being charged with anything. Do you have a statement on that?
Spokesman: Well, we’ve seen the reports. We, obviously, welcome the release from detention… his release from detention, which had been going on for far too long. And I think it’s an opportunity to remind people that, all over the world, there are journalists who are being detained just because they were doing their job, and they need to be released, as well.
Iftikhar? [cross talk]
Question: Thank you. My second question. My second question. Sorry.
Spokesman: Yes, go ahead.
Question: Sorry. Yeah. On Friday, ICC (International Criminal Court) issued a statement saying that it has jurisdiction over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, and it will, consequently, start some kind of investigation for Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. Two countries rejected this: US and Israel. Israel qualified this decision as anti‑Semitism. Do you agree with this description of the ICC decision?
Spokesman: Look, we’re very much aware of the ruling issued by the ICC on Friday. As you know, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations and the Secretariat are two separate institutions. It’s not for us to comment on the ruling made by the ICC, on the decision made by the ICC, as we have separate mandates.
Iftikhar and then Toby. Iftikhar? I can’t hear you. I cannot hear you. See if we can get your problems fixed. We’ll go to Toby in the meantime, and then we’ll try to come back to you.
Question: Hi. Thanks very much, Steph, as usual. My question today, are you able to give us any more colour on specific objectives that Martin Griffiths has for his meeting with the Iranian authorities and what regions is he working on? What… is he working on a prisoner release? Any more colour would be useful. Thank you.
Spokesman: Look, I mean, I think we’ve shared in the opening remarks quite a few details. This trip had been planned by Mr. Griffiths for some time, and I think what’s important, it comes at a time where the Special Envoy’s trying to kind of weave together, to bring together, the diplomatic… the more diplomatic regional and international support to his efforts to end the war in Yemen.
I think we’ve seen a few positive developments in the last few days, and it’s part of Martin’s mandate to engage not only with international but, obviously, regional actors in an effort to help bring the Yemeni parties together to find a comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable political deal in Yemen for the sake of the Yemeni people.
All right. Iftikhar, let’s try you again, and then we’ll go back to the room.
I can’t hear you, Iftikhar. If you want to try to put the question in the chat, I’ll try to get to it.
In the meantime, I’ll ask James to entertain us for a bit.
Question: I have a couple more questions. Can I, first, on Twitter, Mr. [Mark] Lowcock saying that he’s planning to leave the United Nations, what’s the Secretary‑General’s reaction?
Spokesman: I mean, first of all, I think the Secretary‑General would want to thank Mr. Lowcock, express his gratitude for him, for the outstanding contributions he has made while he held the post of Emergency Relief Coordinator. And I think he held that post in an extremely challenging time where we saw humanitarian assistance become more and more important, needs increase much more, and Mr. Lowcock has led OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) through this period.
We’re also thankful that Mr. Lowcock has indicated that he’ll be able to continue at OCHA until a successor is found to avoid any large leadership gap.
Question: How long is the Secretary‑General hoping that the search for a successor will take? And is the post open to all Member States, or will it just go to the UK?
Spokesman: I don’t have any information on the recruitment process, but obviously, I think we will try to find a successor for Mr. Lowcock as quickly as possible, as he’s indicated he wanted to go and spend time with his family, which we completely understand.
Question: But is this a UK post? The UK held it for a long time. [cross talk]
Spokesman: I’m not commenting on that.
Question: Okay. Back to Somalia, if I can, number one, the Security Council to hold an AOB (any other business) on the situation now in Somalia. I’m assuming Mr. Swan is likely to brief the Council?
Spokesman: Either Mr. [Jonathan] Swan or someone from DPPA (Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs). I’ll try to find out.
Question: Then, given the importance of the situation now, as well as briefing the Security Council behind closed doors, could someone brief the journalists on the UN’s position?
And coming back to what… your answer earlier on, because I did ask you very specifically if you thought President [Mohamed Abdullahi] Farmajo was legitimate, and you said you couldn’t answer, and then you gave quite a detailed answer on Haiti… [Cross talk]
Spokesman: No, no, I… what I… no, no. What I…
Question: …and the legitimacy of that President. If you look at the Somali Constitution, article 91, the President of the Federal Republic shall hold office for a term of four years starting from the day he takes the oath of office. He took the oath of office exactly four… he took office exactly four years ago. [cross talk]
Spokesman: What I’m saying is that the general principle, it is not in the… for the UN to anoint or legitimize leaders. What we’re saying is that we think there is still room for Somali leaders to come together, find a political solution that will preserve the institutions that they’ve worked so hard to build.
Question: And a final question, then, on Somalia. The group of opposition candidates who have come together saying that the President is no longer legitimate have come up with a possible solution. They say there should be the formation of a transitional national council for this period, for this potential vacuum period, until finally they can get an election together. What is the UN’s view on that?
Spokesman: Look, it’s up to the Somali political leaders to find that common ground.
Question: But they’re hopelessly divided.
Spokesman: That’s why we’re there to help. I mean, that’s what we usually do is to try to bring people together, but in the end, there have to be nationally led solutions.
Okay. Iftikhar, let’s see if you sent in a… can we hear you now? No. Okay. We’ll still try Ben… in the meantime, Benno, go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Follow‑up on Stephanie Williams. As the biggest developments in Libya were accomplished under her watch basically after many men before her didn’t manage, does the SG think there should be more female envoys, especially in regions that lack protection of women’s rights, for example? And does that… is that something that the Secretary‑General think could enhance negotiations in the future?
Spokesman: Yes. [laughter]
Question: Could you elaborate?
Spokesman: Yes. Well, I mean, yes to everything you’ve said.
Iftikhar? All right. Sorry. We’re… sorry. Can’t seem to get you, Iftikhar. We’ll… if the question is urgent, you can email it to me. I’ll get it for you. Otherwise, I will turn it over to Mr. [Brenden] Varma.