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.
In a short while, I will be joined virtually by experts from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Maximo Torero, the FAO’s Chief Economist, and Dominique Burgeon, the FAO’s Director of the Geneva Office and the Director, ad interim, of the Office of Emergencies and Resilience, will brief you on the latest report from FAO on the impact of natural disasters and crises on agriculture and food insecurity.
And tomorrow, my guests will be Jane Connors, Victims’ Rights Advocate, who will be here in the room, and Christine Besong, the Field Victims’ Rights Advocate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). And she will be joining us virtually. They will be briefing you on the Secretary-General’s latest report on “Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Abuse.” Ms. Besong will also discuss her experiences helping victims in the DRC over the past year.
You will have seen that earlier this morning, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General expressed his sadness to learn of the death of Mr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, President of Tanzania. He extends his deepest condolences to the President’s family and to the Government and the people of Tanzania.
On Myanmar, just to give you a bit of an update on the work of our Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener.
As we have indicated before, the Special Envoy is seeking to visit Myanmar, as the Security Council has encouraged and as the Secretary-General has urged, as part of her efforts to calm the situation and set the stage for dialogue and return to democracy in Myanmar.
A visit to the country under the current circumstances is not yet possible, as highlighted during the Special Envoy’s consultations with various key stakeholders, but she is continuing to evaluate openings.
Meanwhile, the Special Envoy will aim to engage Myanmar’s neighbouring countries through a regional visit.
You will recall that in its presidential statement of 10 March, the Security Council reiterated its deep concern about the arbitrary detention of Myanmar’s State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, and President Win Myint, as well as many others.
We stress once again that their immediate release is paramount.
Another update for you on Myanmar, we will have by videoconference tomorrow at 11 a.m., the acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN in Myanmar, Andrew Kirkwood. He will speak to you virtually to answer your questions. That will be at 11 o’clock tomorrow.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has concluded a forum this week to help community reconciliation and promote sustainable peace in Wau, in the state of Western Bahr el Ghazal. The Forum brought together civil society, faith groups, community leaders, and the private sector. This was an opportunity for robust discussions on the needs of the community, as well as on sustainable and viable solutions to some of the challenges they are facing.
The peacekeeping mission also reports that, as of yesterday, the Bentiu Protection of Civilians site, established in 2013, was re-designated as an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp under Government administration. The UN activities that take place there will continue. This includes humanitarian assistance, policing, and capacity-building.
The Bentiu site is the country’s largest, and hosts close to 100,000 displaced people.
As a reminder, the Protection of Civilians sites located in Wau, Bor, and Juba have already made the transition to camps for internally displaced people. Right now, only the Malakal site remains under the management of the United Nations.
An update for you on Bolivia, which I wanted to share. I just wanted to let you know that the Secretary-General spoke with President Luis Arce this morning. In his conversation, the Secretary-General underscored the need to respect human rights and due process, which constitute a fundamental basis to the consolidation of democracy.
He also welcomed the ongoing discussions to establish a permanent UN Human Rights office in Bolivia. They also discussed the UN’s continued commitment to support the national efforts to consolidate peace in Bolivia.
A couple of COVID updates for you. Vaccines from COVAX arrived last night in Tunisia and Ecuador.
More than 93,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in Tunis. The UN team helped support the national vaccination campaign, which kicked off last week. Frontline workers are the priority group. The vaccination campaign is part of the UN-backed public health initiative that guarantees access for all eligible people without any discrimination and at no cost to the population.
Ecuador meanwhile received 84,000 doses last night, with more on the way. At least 20 per cent of the population — that’s about 3.5 million people — will receive vaccines from COVAX this year.
The Resident Coordinator, Lena Savelli, hailed the arrival of the first doses as a major step to beat the pandemic and recover better.
In Mauritius, the UN team is supporting authorities in dealing with multiple impacts of the pandemic. WHO (World Health Organization) is working to ensure that more than 60 per cent of the population receives the vaccine this year, supporting the national vaccination campaign that kicked off in January.
The Resident Coordinator, Christine Umutoni, commended authorities for a comprehensive vaccination scheme that reaches the entire population, including migrant workers and vulnerable groups.
A report released today by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said the global economy is set to grow by 4.7 per cent this year, faster than predicted in September, when the prediction was 4.3 per cent for 2021. This is thanks in part to a stronger recovery in the United States, where progress in distributing vaccines and a fresh fiscal stimulus are expected to boost consumer spending.
But the report says that this will still leave the global economy over $10 trillion short of where it could have been by the end of 2021 if it had stayed on the pre-pandemic trend.
The report sees a misguided return to austerity, after a deep and destructive recession, as the main risk to the global outlook. This is especially in the context of fractured labour markets and deregulated financial markets in advanced economies.
It warns that COVID-19 will likely have lasting economic, as well as health, consequences, which will require continued Government support.
The full report is online.
Update for you on an issue which we are always following closely, that’s the Safer tanker. I can tell you we are still discussing several logistical issues that have been delaying the mission with the Houthi — Ansar Allah — de facto authorities.
When they approved the mission plan in 2020, Ansar Allah also committed to facilitate mission preparations and logistics. We remain eager to help and implement the agreed mission plan. We will continue to update you on progress in our discussions.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
You will have seen that yesterday evening, we announced that the Secretary-General has appointed Jean Arnault of France as his Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and Regional Issues. The Secretary-General has asked Mr. Arnault to assist in the achievement of a political solution to the conflict, working closely with the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) and its leadership, as well as its regional partners.
No stranger to the UN, as you know Mr. Arnault from his over 30 years of experience in international diplomacy focusing on peace settlements and mediation. He has an extensive background in UN missions in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, including Afghanistan.
We welcome him back, as we do, periodically.
Today, the United Nations released a report on ageism, showing that every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes. This leads to poorer physical and mental health and reduced quality of life for older persons, costing societies billions of dollars each year.
The report, a joint effort by the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) calls for urgent action to combat ageism. It also calls for better measurement and reporting to expose ageism for what it is — an insidious scourge on society.
The full report is online.
And I want to add just a bit of a clarification to something I said yesterday. Yesterday, I was asked about the UK strategic review, and I want to clarify something I said, particularly regarding Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
While the United Kingdom continues to support the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and many efforts to achieve it, we feel this announcement is not consistent with the disarmament commitments of all nuclear-weapon States have undertaken.
Nor is it consistent with commitments under the consensus outcome from the 2010 NPT Review Conference, which states quote “undertake further efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons” and “Rapidly mov[e] towards an overall reduction in the global stockpile of all types of nuclear weapons.”
**Questions and Answers
Ms. Lederer and then Madame Célhia.
Question: Thank you, Steph. A couple of follow‑ups. First, are there any updates on the requests for UN mediation in Afghanistan or over the Ethiopian dam?
Spokesman: No. On the dam, nothing more than what I’ve said previously following the receipt of the letter from the Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok of Sudan.
Question: And on Afghanistan?
Spokesman: No, on the dates for a UN meeting, I have nothing to share.
Question: And on Mr. Arnault, when is he going to be starting this new job?
Spokesman: Well, as soon as possible.
Question: And another follow‑up. On Myanmar, on the Special Envoy, you said she was told that it wasn’t the right time for a visit to Myanmar. Was she given a reason?
Spokesman: They’re just not ready to welcome her in the way that we would like her to be welcomed.
Question: Steph, the members of the Security Council called for a global ceasefire in Yemen. Meanwhile, according to Amnesty International, Canada, the US, Great Britain and France are actively participating in the crisis in Yemen by selling arms to Saudi Arabia. So, what can the UN do if, on one hand, they keep, like, you know, denouncing the war and then, on the other hand, selling weapons?
Spokesman: Well, what we’ve said in the past is that the thing that Yem… Yemen does not need more weapons. Yemen does not need… the people of Yemen don’t need more bombs. They don’t need more guns. They don’t need more planes. They don’t need more drones.
The people of Yemen need peace. They need a ceasefire. They need humanitarian help. They need human dignity, which many of them, sadly, have been denied. And that will continue to be our message, but I would also encourage you to ask the question to those countries that you listed.
Question: Sorry. Thank you, Stéphane. I have a question on Armenia. The Prime Minister [Nikol] Pashinyan announced elections… parliamentary elections to be held at 20 June, I guess. Yes. So, do you believe that that would help to ease the tensions in the country?
And the second question, are you going to send the monitoring mission by UN to the country?
Spokesman: For the elections?
Spokesman: I’m not aware that we’ve been requested. You know, we sent election… I mean, we don’t send observers, but obviously, we support Member States if we’re requested to do so by the authorities.
I have no comment on the political decision to hold elections. We’re always for elections where people can express themselves freely as to their future.
Question: I mean, if you are invited by the Government…
Spokesman: I mean, I don’t want to spec… but basically, if we get a request from a Member State, we will study that request.
Question: Yeah. Where is the Myanmar Special Envoy travelling to? You said “in the region”.
Spokesman: Yeah, no date is set for regional travel, but she would like to travel there as soon as practicable.
Question: But where?
Spokesman: Oh, she will travel to… I mean, basically, her remit would be to speak to as many of Myanmar’s neighbours and, obviously, to ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) countries.
Question: So, she would potentially go to Vietnam?
Spokesman: I don’t know if she would go to Viet… I mean, there… she would… there are logistical hurdles given the pandemic, so she will travel in a way that will maximize her ability to speak to as many regional leaders as possible.
Question: And where is she based now?
Spokesman: She’s based in Bern, Switzerland.
Question: Okay. And on a separate question, so has the UN medical director deemed the Security Council chamber inadequate in terms of physical distancing in the pandemic? I’m trying to find out why the Security Council is not meeting in its chamber.
Spokesman: That’s up to the different presidencies, where they will hold their meetings. We’ve seen in the last months different presidencies want to hold meetings in different places. As always, we will accommodate Member States as much as we can.
Question: If I may, I was told by one Member State the UN medical director said that the chamber was inadequate for distancing even though it has these Plexiglas barriers that Russia donated. Is that the case?
Spokesman: I will check with the medical director.
Spokesman: Okay. Yes, Carla. Then we will go to Iftikhar and James.
Question: You made a comment about the UK responding to some report on Article VI of the NPT. Were they opposing the report? And what was the… what was the…
Spokesman: No, this was something I spoke to yesterday. It was in answer to asking me to comment on their latest strategic review, but you could check yesterday’s transcript. It’s pretty clear.
Iftikhar and then James.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Edie asked all the questions that I had on the new UN envoy in Afghanistan. Just tell me, where is he now, in New York or somewhere else?
Spokesman: You know, it’s a very good question. It’s the problem with this pandemic. It’s hard to keep track of where people physically are, but I will see if I can get exact coordinates for Mr. Arnault’s whereabouts.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. And where he will be based.
Mr. Bays, where… are you joining us from the continental United States or…
Question: I am in a very, very, very cold Alaska in a café having breakfast but enjoying the briefing, of course.
Question: Follow‑up questions on Mr. Arnault and Afghanistan. First, you say you are not sending anyone to the Moscow talks. Is that because the UN talks… the UN doesn’t believe the UN Moscow talks are important? Why, when you now have two envoys, can you not send anyone to Moscow?
Spokesman: No, I think it’s an issue of the format. All of these talks are, of course, very important. And I think it’s very important that all of these different confabs work in the same direction, and we believe they are.
Question: And on Mr. Arnault’s role, there seems to be some duplication here, so can you… I’d like to explore this for a moment. First, in the UN system, is a Special Envoy senior to a Special Representative?
Secondly, Special Representative (SRSG) of UNAMA, an important part of their work has been regional diplomacy. Have those duties now been taken away from Deborah Lyons?
Spokesman: No. In terms of rank, they are both at the Under‑Secretary‑General level. They will both report to the Secretary‑General through the Department of Peacebuilding and Political Affairs (DPPA). There is… neither outranks the other. They’re just different functions.
The Personal Envoy, Mr. Arnault, will work, of course, very closely with Deborah Lyons and the whole UN team in Afghanistan. I mean, Ms. Lyons and the team has longstanding work in support of the peace process, as well as regional cooperation. Her work will continue as mandated.
In terms of kind of listing what Mr. Arnault’s duties will be, he will liaise with regional countries with the aimof supporting the negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban, as well as any implementation of any agreements which are reached.
Given the importance of the regional cooperation in support of Afghanistan, the Personal Envoy will seek to advance good neighbourly relations contributing to peace in the country. And he will also, of course, work very closely with Deborah Lyons and her team.
Question: Okay. But one last question. Does that mean that he will be the mediator at any forthcoming talks that the US are proposing in Turkey? Will he be the person that mediates between the Afghan Government and the Taliban at those talks?
And sorry, I said a final question, another part to this question, is this all the idea of the Secretary‑General, or is he just implementing the [Joseph] Biden/[Antony] Blinken plan in all of this?
Spokesman: Look, I don’t want to characterize what Mr. Arnault’s role will be at any upcoming meetings. Our role will be whatever, wherever we can be and however we can be most helpful.
Mr. Arnault’s appointment was made by the Secretary‑General at his… and it is his… he will serve as his envoy and be mandated and implement the United Nations’ work, of course, in very close cooperation with all the players, including the United States, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Qatar, of course, Afghanistan, Iran and, of course… and also working with… liaising with the Taliban.
Okay. Let’s see if there’s anybody else on the screen. Then we’ll come back to the room. Elena from Lusa and then Maggie.
Question: Hello. Thank you. I have some questions about Mozambique. As you might know, the US has designated officially the ISIS Mozambique as a foreign terrorist organization, and there are some specialists saying that move would bring risks impeding humanitarian aid to Mozambique and also harming potential disarmament and mobilisation and re‑integration efforts, activities.
So, since the UN is gathering and distributing some humanitarian effort to Mozambique, does the Secretariat have anything to say about the designation as a foreign terrorist organization?
Spokesman: Look, we’re, obviously, aware of the designation. Our goal as humanitarians will continue to be to help the people of Mozambique, to make sure, especially, that humanitarian assistance and protection gets to those who need it in Cabo Delgado, as well as other provinces.
We are ready to work and will work with the United States to ensure that these humanitarian operations continue, that the designation will have no negative impact or consequences on them and that… or, for that matter, that they have no negative impact on the people who we are trying to help and who are caught up in the conflict in Cabo Delgado.
And we’ll continue to engage with all relevant actors to negotiate humanitarian access, as foreseen under all relevant General Assembly resolutions, and will remain a critical component of providing an effective, needs‑based assistance.
Question: Thank you, but does UN believe that that can limit… that could limit the humanitarian work?
Spokesman: We’ll work with the US to ensure that it does not.
Question: Okay. And if an NGO (non-governmental organization) like Amnesty International wants to investigate… wants to have an international investigation on war crimes or human rights violation in Mozambique, will that impact the UN’s vision or efforts for… or plans for the country?
Spokesman: Look, the search for justice and accountability is in no way something that would ever hamper the search for peace. They’re two… obviously linked, but it doesn’t mean one blocks the other. And for our part, we will continue with our humanitarian work. Our human rights colleagues will continue to report on human rights violations.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Maggie. You’re welcome. Maggie?
Question: Steph, thanks. You pretty much covered everything, but I will ask you, the White House said they’re sending a close adviser of President Biden to Ethiopia to meet with the Prime Minister to convey the President’s concerns about the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in Tigray. Has the US coordinated with you at all on this? Do you welcome this move? What do you have to say about it?
Spokesman: I mean, we welcome any move that will help move the diplomacy forward, that will have an ultimate benefit to the people in Tigray who need humanitarian help, that will have an ultimate… that will help the accountability for the human rights violations that we know have occurred on a large scale in that area.
Okay. Let’s… hold on a second. Okay. Dulcie?
Question: Yeah, I want to return to Deborah Lyons and Mr. Arnault. Will he be based in Afghanistan?
Spokesman: No, he will not be based in Afghanistan…
Question: Where will he be based?
Spokesman: That’s what I’m trying to find out, because his work will obviously involve a lot of travels.
Question: So it might be Paris?
Spokesman: I don’t know… I don’t think he lives in Paris, so I don’t know where he’ll be.
Question: Okay. I’m just wondering why Deborah Lyons’ main job is mediator. She’s been doing this shuttle diplomacy, why she’s had to sort of give up this role to Mr. Arnault.
Spokesman: She wasn’t the mediator. We… I mean, you look at the talks…
Question: She’s been doing shuttle diplomacy for quite a while.
Spokesman: Okay. We… she’s, obviously, been engaged in regional efforts. She continues, obviously, with the full support of the Secretary‑General to lead the very important Mission in Afghanistan to deal with what is going on in Afghanistan.
I think what we have seen in the last few weeks is a very quick and active uptick in regional efforts, and that’s what Mr. Arnault will focus on.
Question: Do you think this reflects poorly, in the middle of the CSW (Commission on the Status of Women), that a woman who was doing this job has now been replaced or succeeded or will be doing work in parallel with a man?
Spokesman: No, I think the… in my mind, the two are unrelated. She is not being replaced. He is not succeeding her. He’s not overshadowing her. They will work in partnership.
One will focus more on the regional issues, which I’ve mentioned have had a real uptick, and Deborah Lyons will continue to lead the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
Okay. Okay. Sorry. I can’t see. Ibtisam and then Benno. I’ll get around to everybody.
Question: Hi, Steph. I have a follow‑up on your statement regarding the UK. So, just to clarify, first, because I don’t have the statement yet in front of me, and I know your office probably going to send it, so that statement was in the context of the nuclear weapon arsenal of the UK. And the difference between yesterday and today’s statement is that, today, you are talk… saying that such a statement… that you feel that such a statement is contrary to the obligation under Article VI of the NPT. Is that correct?
Spokesman: I think… I just want to clarify that we’re not expressing a legal opinion. We are expressing a position on the UK announcement vis‑à‑vis the NPT.
Question: Okay. So, that… my follow‑up question is, why, actually, you’re not expressing a legal opinion? Because the Secretary‑General has legal advisers, and he should have a legal opinion on such an issue so… and why did you change part of your statements? Does this have to do… were you pressured by the UK? Or…
Spokesman: I think we wanted to clarify our position. It is up to the member… the parties to the treaty who can express more legal opinion, but this is not a legal opinion. It is an opinion and a position we are expressing.
Question: But did you get any objection on this statement from the UK?
Spokesman: We just feel it was best to clarify what we had to say so there would be no misinterpretation.
Sylviane. Oh, sorry. I promised Benno and then Sylviane. Sorry.
Question: Thank you. I actually have a follow‑up on the Libya Observer Mission, but still, I think, Ibtisam’s question still stands: Why don’t you give a legal opinion about the issue with the British?
And then my question about Libya is, I would like to have a follow‑up on the Libya Observer Mission. If I’m not mistaken, the last situation was, the group is on the ground; the team’s on the ground. They were in Tripoli, I think. Are they now in Sirte? Did they start working? What is…
Spokesman: Benno, all very good questions. Let me try to get an update for you on Libya later today or tomorrow so we know where they are.
It will be up to the parties to the treaty to express a more legal opinion. As I said, at this point, we felt we wanted to just express our position of where we were on the treaty… and frankly, it is a statement of principle, something we would say to any nuclear weapon state.
Okay. Sylviane and then James Reinl.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have a question on the report of Secretary‑General on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) that was discussed today at the Security Council. This report does not reflect completely the reality on the ground in Lebanon. There is no mention whatsoever of the call of Patriarch Rai, several calls for Lebanon neutrality in the Lebanese Constitution and internationalization of the Lebanese crisis. Any reason for this silence? I have also a second question when you finish.
Spokesman: No, the statement speaks for itself. I have nothing to add to the Secretary‑General’s report, which is in itself a public document, and it is his report and his observations.
Your second question?
Question: My second, when will new UN Special Representative to Lebanon will be appointed?
Spokesman: As soon as I’m able to announce it, one will be appointed.
Question: It’s been a long time now.
Spokesman: It has been a long time, but it is nowhere near the record of other posts that have remained vacant, so we’re still within a safe zone.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: And as you know, the… and all joking aside, as you know, Mr. [Ján] Kubiš was transferred to the post in Libya on very, very short notice, so this was not a planned transition, if you’ll recall.
Question: Thank you so much, Steph. Edie asked you at the very beginning of the press briefing about the Ethiopian mega dam project. You said you don’t have any updates from Monday. I’m just wondering, you’ve had the request from Sudan, the letter to [inaudible] negotiation, and just an hour ago, we had the Egyptian Prime Minister in the General Assembly in the water debate, saying they wanted international mediation to help. I’m just wondering if you could help me out by giving us something fresh today. What is the UN’s response to these requests for assistance on this big problem for these countries?
Spokesman: Well, there’s nothing more than I would like to give you some fresh water, James, but unfortunately, there’s nothing more to say than what I said yesterday, that we have received the statement… the letter from Prime Minister Hamdok. We’ve, obviously, heard what the Egyptians said today. We stand ready to help all the parties as requested, as I said yesterday.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Anyone else before we go to our guests?
Oh, Stefano, si.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. President Biden, in an interview, called President [Vladimir] Putin a killer. And two weeks ago, the UN issue a report where it says that the Russia Government is responsible for the poisoning of dissident [Alexei] Navalny.
So, what’s the reaction of… in general, what is the reaction of Secretary‑General [António] Guterres after President Biden did that?
Also today, there is a reaction from President Putin, where he wished to President Biden good health.
Spokesman: Well, we… I’m not going to play commentary to what President Biden said. As a matter of principle, we are always for the promotion of good and open relations between the world’s countries and, especially, two Security Council… permanent members of the Security Council.
Question: Just a quick follow‑up… I mean, the question… just a follow‑up. Is the Secretary‑General worried for the world and peace, world peace, when two leaders that can annihilate life in the earth exchange… have this kind of exchange of words?
Spokesman: I think… I don’t want to be the analyst, but I think you’re jumping a few steps here. Is the Secretary‑General worried about the state of the world? Yes. I think, if you’ve been listening to him for the last year or so, he has expressed his concern in a number of places, notably on a security architecture that doesn’t always function. I think he said it in reflection to Syria just the other day. But as I said, we are always for the promotion of good and open relations between the world’s powers.
Okay. If we can now switch on our guests, if they are on.