Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, thank you for your patience. We are starting off with Myanmar.
First let me just say that we will be joined in a few minutes, after we are done, by Vincent Martin, who is the UN Resident Coordinator in Guinea. He will brief us on the situation in Guinea, particularly on the challenges of the resurgence of Ebola during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, spoke virtually at this morning’s Security Council’s closed session on Myanmar. She told Council members that their unity is needed more than ever on Myanmar. The Envoy said that the people of Myanmar, including committed civil servants, are the real heroes and protectors of the nation’s democratic progress. But, she warned, the hope they have placed in the United Nations and its membership is waning. The Envoy stressed that we must be robust and timely in pushing for a stop to the violence and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic institutions. We must denounce the actions by the military, which continue to severely undermine the principles of the United Nations and ignores our clear signals to uphold those principles.
The UN Envoy noted that, since her briefing to the General Assembly a week ago, the military brutally unleashed its worst crackdown yet since the 1 February coup, killing a total of around 50 innocent and peaceful protestors while seriously injuring scores more. “It is critical that this Council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results,” she added. There is an urgency for collective action. How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with, Ms. Schreiner Burgener told Council Members. We must be clear: previous and current crimes will not go unpunished. Perpetrators of the past, and ongoing, serious violations of human rights will be held accountable through international mechanisms, she said.
**Central African Republic
And yesterday in the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) colleagues met with the commanders of several armed groups affiliated with the CPC, the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement. The meeting took place in Nana Bakassa, in the Ouham Prefecture. The Mission urged them to vacate a school and the Catholic Church buildings they have been occupying since December 2020. This is in the context of recent elections-related violence. The UN Mission also sensitized the combatants on International Humanitarian Law and human rights actions. Meanwhile, in Barama Village, in Mbomou Prefecture, the UN Mission and the sub-Prefect launched a cash-for-work initiative, beginning with the selection of project recipients as part for the Community Violence Reduction programme. The Mission also continued their multifaced support of the preparations for the legislative elections of 14 March, including with the deployment of electoral materials to the regions, the training of polling agents [and] the provision of security.
And a couple of travel notes by senior UN officials: Atul Khare, the Under‑Secretary-General for Operational Support, is still in Sudan, where he has been for a couple of days. In Darfur, he met with the local leaders of Central and North Darfur, as well as other community leaders. He is seeking their support for a safe and orderly withdrawal of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). Mr. Khare also discussed their priorities and plans for the civilian use of team sites, as well as assets handed over by the mission to the local government. During his visit, Mr. Khare symbolically decommissioned the UNAMID Zalingei headquarters. He also paid tribute to the fallen UN and African Union peacekeepers. It was agreed that there would be a gradual takeover of the Mission’s assets by Zalingei University. Mr. Khare also went to Sortony and El Fasher where, among other activities, he handed over a microdose mammogram machine to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
And the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will be in Togo from 7 to 9 March. He will visit at the invitation of the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, as well as the Malian authorities. There, he will participate in the second meeting of the Transition Support Group in Mali that will be held in Lomé, on 8 March. The meeting will focus on progress made in the implementation of the Transition Road Map and the mobilization and coordination of international support to this end. Mr. Lacroix will use the opportunity to meet with Togolese officials to update them on peacekeeping issues. He is expected to express his gratitude for the service and sacrifices of Togolese peacekeepers, particularly in Mali where 1 peacekeeper was killed and 27 others wounded in a complex attack on 10 February.
Turning to Senegal, and the ongoing situation there. The Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed ibn Chambas, deplores the acts of violence that have taken place over the past two days in several localities. These resulted in the death of one person and many were injured. He calls on all actors to exercise restraint and urges the authorities to take the necessary measures to ease tensions and ensure the constitutional right to peaceful protest. Finally, Mr. Chambas also called on security forces to ensure the safety of demonstrators and property in a professional and lawful manner.
I have been asked about the upcoming elections in Cote d’Ivoire, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General welcomes the meaningful political dialogue efforts which have paved the way for inclusive legislative elections on 6 March. He takes note that the electoral campaign took place in a calm environment. He encourages Ivorians to cast their votes in a peaceful manner. He further encourages them to build on the peaceful environment to strengthen national reconciliation efforts. We continue to support the electoral process with the provision of technical assistance to the Independent Electoral Commission, including capacity‑building, strategic communication and logistics support.
And just a quick note from Mozambique, where UNFPA today launched a humanitarian appeal for $12 million to urgently provide life-saving sexual and reproductive health and protection services to 330,000 women, girls and youth. They have been impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado and the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Just to note that the Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert, was present at the reception for Pope Francis this morning and will attend a Mass this weekend. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) considers the Pope’s visit to be historic and of great importance for the country. Karim Khan, the Head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), also welcomed the Pope’s visit and the message it carries to all communities in Iraq who have suffered at the hands of Da’esh and other groups. Meanwhile, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said the Pope's forthcoming visit to the city of Mosul carries an important message of support and hope for people who had suffered through a violent and oppressive occupation by violent extremists.
A couple of COVID-19 vaccine notes: The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today launched an online dashboard to track deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines in countries in humanitarian crisis. This will show the speed at which vaccines are rolled out in the 27 countries with Humanitarian Response Plans. It’s called the COVID-19 Data Explorer and it gives an overview of the impact of COVID and how many vaccine doses are allocated and delivered — either through COVAX or other means. So far, 13 crisis countries have received over 12 million vaccine doses, but fewer than half a million doses are estimated to have been administered.
**Republic of Moldova/COVAX
Speaking of administering doses, two COVID-19 updates from our country teams: The first one in the Republic of Moldova, which is the first European country to receive COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX. A first batch of 14,400 doses for medical and front-line personnel, as well as people at high risk, arrived yesterday with UN support. The President of the Republic of Moldova received the vaccines at an event attended by Resident Coordinator Simon Springett. The UN in Republic of Moldova continues to help authorities respond to the pandemic by helping to prepare the health system and providing technical support.
In Tajikistan, our team there, led by the Resident Coordinator Sezin Sinanoglu, has been supporting the Government’s response to COVID-19, focusing on services to the most vulnerable. The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the authorities to contact-trace [and test], while United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided medical and personal protective equipment and supplies to intensive care units. The UN team also ensured maternal and reproductive health services continue to be provided, with UNFPA to set up a telehealth system for more than 19,000 women. A national risk communication and community engagement campaign jointly run by UN agencies under the Spotlight Initiative has reached more than 2 million, focusing on COVID-19 infection prevention and control, as well as on preventing violence against women.
And we want to thank our friends who may be far away, in Tuvalu. But, we thanked them nonetheless for becoming the sixty-sixth country to have paid its budget dues in full. We’re getting there. This is a time where I answer your questions, so James.
**Questions and Answers
Question: So, Myanmar — the Special Envoy, you read part of a statement. There is an urgency for collective action, and she addressed that to the Security Council. They are now considering another statement when their previous statement a month ago was ignored and, in fact, the violence has got worse. Does the Secretary‑General think there should be tougher action just than words, particularly when the committee representing the detained politicians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for targeted sanctions and a total arms embargo?
Spokesman: Look, I think there are a number of ways through which the international community can show its resolve. One is by clear words and action from the Security Council. They have a number of tools at their disposal. I don't want to insert myself in the discussions that are probably ongoing as we speak, but we need something clear, as you said, in words and in action. But, also, I think, there are Member States, who have… who are in the region and beyond who may have an influence over the various parties in Myanmar, should also exercise that influence so we see a rolling back of the coup and all the violence that we've seen.
Question: A follow‑up question, if I can, on Myanmar and the situation in Tigray, because there do seem to be some parallels in the fact that both crises are getting worse and human rights concerns and very serious humanitarian concerns. Does the Secretary‑General see these two issues as internal issues?
Spokesman: For the Secretary‑General, there are issues that have regional and greater implication. We are briefing the Council. We are doing our job, I mean, in fact… We have a Special Envoy whose task it is to report back to the Council.
Question: And final one on Tigray, that this statement was put out after Mr. [Mark] Lowcock spoke to the Council yesterday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, and oddly, it seems to have been deleted since, but it seems to have been an official statement, so I think I can ask about it. Most areas of the region are now accessible, and notification process has been put in place to allow humanitarian access to travel to the region. And then it says, access is adequately created, hence it would be pointless to call for access anymore. Does the UN believe the situation is sorted and does it call for any more access?
Spokesman: No, I mean… We do… yes, we continue to call for more access. My understanding is that there has been a new system put in place to get humanitarian workers in there more easily, which includes, I think, an advanced three the‑day notification, which is definitely a step in the right direction. But, we need more access and, more importantly, the people need help. There are large, large groups of people who are in dire need of humanitarian help. There's some time left, so we'll have Edie ask a question.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Two follow‑ups, one on Myanmar. SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Schraner Burgener said she plans to go to the region to try and coordinate some kind of action. Can you tell us what the Secretary‑General is doing to first try and get her into the… back into Myanmar and to promote that kind of international response?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, the Secretary‑General continues to work the phone, notably with countries in the region, with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and others, and I think we're all working in the same direction, which is trying to get her in the country without any conditions and to get strong and coordinated international response from the neighbours and beyond.
Question: And on Tigray, what is the problem in getting to rural areas since there actually are a num… a significant number of UN humanitarian staff people in the country? Is it the Government… the regional people putting roadblocks in travel…?
Spokesman: It's a combination of bureaucratic hurdles, some of which are… have been eased, as I mentioned to James, also the lack of communications, of Internet access, and right now, the lack of… the fact that we do not have enough humanitarian workers to distribute and to reach the people who need it. There's been aid that's come in. I think Mr. Lowcock was clear on that that there's been some… there's been trucks that have come in, but having aid physically go in is not the same thing of us being able to distribute it. All right. Let's go to Philippe and then Erol.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I know that you already talk about Senegal, but is there any comment from SG himself? Thank you.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General, of course, fully supports what Mr. Chambas has been saying and doing. The Secretary‑General is very much concerned about the recent violence that we've seen in Dakar and other parts of Senegal. This, obviously, follows the arrest of the opposition leader. His call is very clear on all concerned in Senegal to avoid further escalation of the situation. The protests must remain peaceful, and the security and police forces must, at all times, operate with… in line with international human rights standards, which is something we've been saying about the situation in many countries, which is demonstrate… faced with peaceful demonstrators, security forces, police forces must allow those demonstrators to express their opinion and to express their will. Erol?
Question: Yes. Do you hear me?
Spokesman: And I see you.
Question: Okay, good. There are growing calls for the WHO to further investigate the origin of the COVID-19 virus. Their last report made after the mission in China has not completed totally, as many say… the US does not accept it as completed. And there are even talks about concession given to China. Was… what does the Secretary‑General say to that?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General fully supports all the efforts that Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] and WHO have been mounting to look back about how this pandemic started and how it was handled. As for the specifics of the investigation and the independent team that [has] gone in, I would ask you to ask WHO on that.
Question: Can I follow up, please?
Spokesman: You can follow up whatever you'd like.
Question: Thank you very much. And does it… is it included that the Secretary‑General is calling for more speed in that investigation? Because, obviously, it would help in many ways of how to handle future crisis with the pandemic.
Spokesman: As with any investigation, you want it to be done quickly, but you want it to be done efficiently. Whether you're investigating a disease, whether you're investigating a crime, I think you don't want to have it done in a way that is rushed in any way, shape or form, and we have full confidence in the WHO's handling. Alan Bulkaty, RIA Novosti. Alan.
Spokesman: Excuse me, Steph. Thank you. I have an issue with my video camera, so may I ask a question this way? There are reports that the prosecutor who was investigating the killing of the Italian ambassador to the [Democratic Republic of the Congo]… that he has been killed. So, do you have any information on this?
Spokesman: Yes. We have… I've seen those reports. We've asked our colleagues in the Mission to look into it. I don't have anything to share with you at this point. Okay. Gloria, and then we'll go to our guest, who has been very patient.
Question: In the case of the United Nations Mission of the Central African Republic, it's been quite leadershipless. They have no leadership. They haven't had an ambassador there. It's a country where they should send their highest rank to run the Mission. It's needed.
Spokesman: Okay. Thank you. It is now my pleasure to turn over the briefing to our guest and to my colleague, Vincent Martin, who heads the UN presence in Guinea, who's here to speak to you about COVID‑19 and Ebola and everything that you're doing to support the people of Guinea.