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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.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

We’ll start off with an update from our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP), who have sent us the following update following that tragic security incident that took place on 22 February.  The security incident involved a group of seven people travelling in two World Food Programme vehicles on the road from Goma to Rutshuru in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they were planning to visit a World Food Programme school feeding project.  The group comprised five employees of the World Food Programme who were accompanying the Italian Ambassador to Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as his security escort.  The group left Goma at approximately 9 a.m., local time.

At approximately 10:15 a.m., local time, the two vehicles were stopped by an armed group and all passengers were forced to disembark from the cars.  The World Food Programme driver of one of the vehicles, Mustapha Milambo, was killed at this time.  The remaining six passengers were then forced into the surrounding bush at gunpoint where there was an exchange of fire.  During the exchange of fire, the Italian Ambassador, Luca Attanasio, and his security escort, Vittorio Iacovacci, were mortally injured and subsequently died.  The four other passengers in the group — all World Food Programme staff — evaded their abductors and are safe and accounted for.  They include the World Food Programme Deputy Country Director in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rocco Leone; WFP School Feeding Programme Assistant, Fidele Zabandora; World Food Programme Security Officer, Mansour Rwagaza; and the World Food Programme driver, Claude Mukata.  The UN Department of Safety and Security is leading a detailed review of the incident.

**Climate Change

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke to members of the Security Council on the topic of “Maintenance of international peace and security:  climate and security”.  He told them that, while the science of climate is clear, our duty is even clearer:  we need to protect the people and communities that are being hit by climate disruption.  The Secretary-General stressed that, unless we protect those most exposed and susceptible to climate-related impacts, we can expect them to become even more marginalized, and their grievances to be reinforced.  High levels of inequality can weaken social cohesion and can lead to discrimination, scapegoating, rising tensions and unrest, increasing the risk of conflict.  Those who are already being left behind will be left behind even further, he added.  He also emphasized the role that big emitters have in tackling the climate crisis, saying we look to them to lead by example in the coming months.  This is a credibility test of their commitment to people and planet, he said.  He also urged Council members to use their influence during this pivotal year to ensure the success of COP26 and to mobilize others, including international financial institutions and the private sector, to do their part.


I have a statement for you regarding the looting of the Saraf Umrah site in Darfur.  The site, as you may know, had formerly been a base for two formed UN police units.  When the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) ended its mandate at the end of December 2020, the site was closed and then handed over to North Darfur State authorities as scheduled on 21 January 2021, with assurances that it would be transformed into a vocational centre.  Instead, the site was looted on 18 February.  The Secretary-General condemns the looting of the first site, Saraf Umrah in Darfur, handed over to the Sudanese authorities following the end of the UNAMID mandate in December of last year.  At a time when community needs in Sudan are increasingly pressing, the site was intended to serve as a vocational training centre.  Unknown assailants have dashed that opportunity.  The Secretary-General calls on the Sudanese authorities to investigate the incident and ensure sufficient security presences for subsequent handovers so that facilities are preserved for civilian use as intended.


Turning to Niger, the Secretary-General commends the Government and people of the Republic of Niger for holding the run-off presidential election on 21 February, despite significant security and humanitarian challenges, as well as, of course, the pandemic.  The Secretary-General condemns the killing of election officials in the Tillabéri and Diffa regions on election day.  He also condemns the sporadic attacks mounted by armed gunmen against election officials in parts of the country.  He conveys his deep condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the UN to accompany the Government and people of Niger in their efforts to pursue stability and sustainable development.


On Myanmar, you will have seen that, in a tweet, the Secretary-General called on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately and stressed the need to release the prisoners, end the violence and respect human rights and the will of the people.  Also on Myanmar, the International Labour Organization (ILO) today said it has received allegations that the police and military are conducting door-to-door searches for unionists in Yangon.  ILO urges the military authorities to cease all acts of harassment and intimidation against these workers, particularly young female workers, and ensure that all workers can exercise their rights to freedom of expression.  Also expressing concern was the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which warned that the instability could disrupt essential services to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls, including safe pregnancy and childbirth.  UNFPA said this will have serious, even life‑threatening, implications if timely access to emergency obstetric and new-born care is compromised or not provided in general, and for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in particular.


The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, has continued his meetings and telephone calls with Libyan and international officials.  During his calls this past week, he welcomed the progress achieved so far by the Libyan stakeholders in different areas and stressed the importance of all relevant institutions to respect the Roadmap and continue working for its full implementation.  Among those calls, on Sunday, he spoke with the Minister for the Interior, Fathi Bashaga, to express grave concerns over the serious security incident that targeted his convoy.


A report released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warns that there was a rise in civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan following the start of peace negotiations in September 2020.  Nevertheless, overall numbers for 2020 were down due to lower civilian casualty rates earlier in the year.  The total number of 8,820 civilian casualties in 2020 fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013 and was down 15 per cent from 2019.  The UN Mission said that, while the reduced numbers are welcome, documentation shows that the lower levels of overall harm were [partially] offset by an uncharacteristic increase in civilian harm in the last quarter of 2020.  UNAMA pointed out that a distressing feature of the conflict remains the shocking and disproportionate impact on Afghan women and children.  They make up 43 per cent of all civilian casualties.  More women were killed in the conflict in 2020 than any other year since UNAMA began systematic documentation in 2009.  Afghanistan remains among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.  The full report is online.


The Humanitarian Response Plan for Mali was launched yesterday by the UN, our humanitarian partners, and the Malian Government.  The plan seeks $563 million to assist 4.7 million people in immediate need — that’s 1.1 million more [people] than last year.  Last year, violence and insecurity spread from the country’s north to the central regions and across the border into Niger and Burkina Faso.  Growing instability has led to a new surge in internal displacement.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for Mali, Mbaranga Gasarabwe, urged relevant parties to address the needs of affected communities adequately.  She stressed the importance of increasing funding and having timely financial contributions to assist populations in need and strengthen their resilience to shocks.


A couple of updates on vaccines.  Today marks a major milestone in Mongolia, which rolled out its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines today.  Our UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Tapan Mishra, has been supporting authorities to prepare for this and for Mongolia’s inclusion in the COVAX facility.  The UN team played a key role supporting the national vaccination plan and ensured that the vaccine will reach priority groups, including health care‑workers and others at risk first.  We are helping authorities to secure vaccines to cover 60 per cent of Mongolia’s population this year; that’s some 2 million people.  WHO helped to coordinate the vaccination plan and also trained health and front-line workers.  UNICEF provided [support] for cold and supply chains, as well as in working with communities to counter misinformation and build trust in vaccines and in the health system.


Also on vaccines and good news:  UNICEF has sent 100,000 syringes and 1,000 safety boxes for COVID-19 vaccination operations to Maldives by air freight — that’s from their warehouse in Dubai.  This is part of the first wave of COVID-19-related syringe shipments to begin rolling out in the coming days.  Others in the first wave of shipments include Côte d'Ivoire and São Tomé and Príncipe.


And vaccine good news closer to home:  the Secretary-General, António Guterres, is scheduled to receive his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this Friday at a school in the Bronx, if I’m not mistaken.  He received his first dose on 28 January and we are thankful for our New York City partners to help facilitate this second dose, and we will again have some video and photo of that grand event.

**Central America

Turning to Central America, the World Food Programme today said that hunger in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua has increased almost fourfold over the past two years.  That’s from 2.2 million people in 2018 to close to 8 million people in 2021.  This is as a result of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and years of extreme climate events.  WFP said it plans to assist 2.6 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in 2021 and requires $47.3 million over the next six months.  For $47 million, you can buy an apartment in New York or you can give the money to WFP.  You can get a penthouse in New York, rather, for that.


Yesterday afternoon, Helen La Lime, the head of the UN Mission in Haiti, told [Security] Council members that, as the country prepares to enter a tense pre-electoral period, the polarization that has defined most of President [Jovenel] Moïse’s term in office has become more acute.  Signs of a shrinking civic space abound and an already alarming humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, she added.  The country’s progress towards achieving the [Sustainable Development Goals] appears to have stalled or backslid, Ms. La Lime said.  She also expressed her deep concern with the resurgence in kidnappings.  Only a democratic renewal, resulting from the prompt holding of credible, transparent, and participatory elections, can provide Haiti with the opportunity to overcome its protracted political crisis, she said. A couple more notes and we’re done.

**World Employment and Social Outlook Report

The International Labour Organization today released its latest World Employment and Social Outlook 2021.  According to the report, digital labour platforms have increased five-fold worldwide in the last decade.  ILO noted that the challenges for platform workers relate to working conditions, the regularity of work and income, and the lack of access to social protection, freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.  Half of online platform workers earn less than $2 per hour and some platforms have [significant gender pay gaps].  The report says that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed many of these issues.

**Edward Luck

And I think you all saw that, yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General in which he expressed his sadness at the passing of our former colleague, the UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Ed Luck, who passed away on 16 February.  During his tenure as Special Adviser from 2008 to 2012, Mr. Luck was instrumental in advancing the conceptual and institutional development of the commitment of the international community to protect populations from genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He was a prestigious scholar, author and leading expert on the United Nations who contributed to the UN in many ways.  The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to Mr. Luck’s family and friends.  And I know those of you who have known him will join me in that expression.


Just ending on some good news, today we thank Chad, Croatia and Serbia for their payments in full to the 2021 budget.  We are up to 54.  Mr.  Bays?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Three quick ones on news items of the day.  While we've been speaking, the Senate in Washington, D.C., has confirmed Linda Thomas‑Greenfield as the new Permanent Representative of the US to the UN.  What will be the Secretary‑General's reaction?  How does he hope to work with her in the light of the US return to the climate deal and the US trying to get back into the Iran deal?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General very much looks forward to working with the ambassador on issues of climate, the recovery from COVID, and the many other global issues that are on our shared agenda.  And Mr. Guterres has known the ambassador for quite some time, and I think he saw her effectiveness, her dedication in action, when they travelled together when she was the head, I think, of the Population Bureau at the State Department, and he was High Commissioner for Refugees.  Yeah?

Question:  Couple of other ones.  Protests in Georgia following the arrest of the main opposition leader; does the UN have a reaction?

Spokesman:  Yes, we do.  If I wasn't so messy… I think we're following with concern the developments that we're seeing in Tbilisi.  It's very important that there be calm, that the issues… the outstanding political issues be addressed through dialogue, that there be respect for the rule of law and, of course, the democratic process.

Question:  And one more news story of the day, which is Malaysia and the return of people to Myanmar.  I know various parts of the UN had some comment on that…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I don't have anything… I would refer you to UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and IOM [International Organization for Migration].  I don't have the details in front of me, but I would… it always bears… it's always important to reiterate the right of refugees not to be returned against their will and… because that's a violation of international law, and for migrants to be treated with the dignity and respect they all deserve and respecting their human rights.  Célhia and then Mr. Bryce‑Pease.

Question:  Stéphane, I'd like to go back to the DRC.  I don't know if you saw that the Ministry of Interior and Security said in a statement that security services were unable to provide special security measures for the convoy, due to lack of information of their presence in that part of the country.

Spokesman:  For which country?

Question:  DRC.  The Minister of the Interior and Security… is it what happened — they did not say where they were?

Spokesman:  The DRC… there are two things that we have.  First, there is a UN review of the incident, the security around the incident.  That will be done and that is being done by the UN Department of Safety and Security.  There will have to be a criminal investigation, which is primarily the responsibility of the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Obviously, from what I understand, the Italians will obviously be involved because of the nationality… in fact, it was the ambassador and the carabinieri, so those… and we, the UN will support those investigations in any way we can.  But, there will have to be… there is an ongoing review of the incident by our own security services.  Sherwin?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Given the Secretary‑General's comments about the inequity around vaccine distribution around the world, calling it wildly uneven and unfair, where does he fall in terms of his support of efforts currently under way at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in terms of intellectual property waiver proposals as it regards medical products in relation to COVID‑19?

Spokesman:  Those are decisions that are going to have to be taken by the Member States of WTO.  I think any move that will facilitate the distribution and access to vaccines will be welcome.  Obviously, there are issues of rights and law that need to be respected, but the detail of how that works out will be up to the WTO.  Okay.  Let me see if there's anything in the chat.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yes.  A quest… I have two questions.  One is on DRC.  Yes, you answered the… there is going to be an investigation of the UN.  My question is, usually, when there is an area so dangerous — I believe that just two weeks before, there were a shoot‑out on the same place with 12 people that died — and the UN has a convoy going with an ambassador, in this case, who provide… who should be providing security?  Is that Government of Kinshasa or, in this case, is the UN has… has its own security and Blue Helmet that they have… I believe it, what, 30,000, 25,000 in Congo?  So, who is re… who is responsible for the lack of the security in this case?

Spokesman:  This was a joint mission with the ambassador and then — the Italian ambassador and the World Food Programme.  There will be a review, an internal review, of… by the UN Department of Safety and Security on the security surrounding it.  So, I don't want to start speculating of who should have been… who should have known what and who should have done what…

Correspondent:  No, but I'm…

Spokesman:  No, I… we need the facts to bear out.  I think, as you saw, there were security officers with this joint mission, and the road had been deemed safe.  But, beyond that, I don't want to speculate.

Question:  Okay.  My question was different.  I was asking if usually, if you know, usually, not this case, usually, who provides security… if you can answer to this, usually, who gives the security?

Spokesman:  There is no… let's step away from this incident.  Right?

Correspondent:  Exactly.

Spokesman:  There is no usually.  There are different configurations that can happen depending on where people are going, who is in the… who are in the cars, where… and the… so, there are all sorts of different options.  So, I would not… I cannot give you a “usually” answer.

Question:  If I may now, second question, there is another part of the world, but with the same problem, security of people that work for the United Nations.  It's about Mario Paciolla case in Colombia.  When last week I ask you the question if I… I need to know from you if I understood well.  Okay?  You said that is… because I ask you, what happened to the investigation, the UN investigation about the case?  Is it suicide or not for the UN?  You answer, if I'm… and tell me if I'm correct.  You practically answer, you said the UN did this work, and it just is to the Colombian and to the Italians to ask the UN for the information.  Did you… I mean, if I understood well, okay, means that you answer me practically that the UN came out with a case, in the sense the UN has its answer; it just is waiting for the Italians and the Colombian to ask for it.  Is this what you answer?

Spokesman:  No, I don't… I'm not sure what question they asked, but what I can tell you is that our… from the UN side, we have been cooperating actively with the Italian investigators and with the Colombian investigators, who are leading the criminal investigation.

Question:  If I may just a quick… quick follow‑up.  So, to the strict question, did the UN finish to do its own investigation on the case?  It has an answer to this.  Is yes or no?

Spokesman:  What I can tell you… I wish every answer was yes or no.  It would make these briefings a lot shorter, at least on my end.  What I can tell you is that our cooperation with both the Italian investigations and the Colombian investigations is ongoing.  Mr. Sato?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about the Secretary‑General's remark at the Security Council this morning, which you mentioned.  He criticized the developed countries, which hasn't met the obligation of 1,000… a billion US dollars by 2020, and the year is already over past.  Can you tell us, the media, how much the gap between what is required and what already have?

Spokesman:  Okay.  I will have to check that number for you, Sato.  I'm sorry.  I don't have that with me, but I will check that number for you.

Question:  Thank you very much.  One more question is… so, he used the terminology of "climate disruption".  As long as my observation, he frequently used the "climate crisis" and the "climate emergency".  Did he have a specific implication by using "climate disruption"?

Spokesman:  Well, I think what his meaning is that the climate change is disrupting every facet of the world that we live in and, frankly, almost every issue that's on the UN's agenda, especially issues are that are on the agenda of the Security Council, which are peace and security issues.  Okay.  Any other questions?  I can see James reaching for his holster.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, okay.  So, there has been the introduction, it seems, going forward of a pledge of loyalty to China in the Hong Kong governance system.  It seems to be a restriction.  There was already a pretty limited role of democracy in Hong Kong but a restriction on democracy in Hong Kong.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction?

Spokesman:  Listen, I have… I would just refer you back to what we've already said about the situation in Hong Kong.  I have nothing new to add.

Question:  Okay.  Any update on… you told us about peacekeepers in Juba airport yesterday?

Spokesman:  No, they are… as far as I was told this morning, they remain safe in the care of South Sudanese and UNHCR authorities, and they are being assessed.  But, their right to request asylum and protection is being taken extremely seriously and is being respected.

Question:  And finally, on the SG's vaccination, I remember, a couple weeks ago, you told us that the UN was very keen not to jump the queue, but there were arrangements for a small group of essential staff potentially to be vaccinated.  Is there any update on who they are and when that will be?

Spokesman:  No, nothing to… no updates to share at this point.  Okay.  Brenden, if you want to speak, I will wave.

For information media. Not an official record.