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.
**Secretary-General — Financing for Development
He noted that, since the pandemic began one year ago, no element of our multilateral response has gone as it should, with some 120 million people having fallen back into extreme poverty.
He warned that the crisis is far from over, with the speed of infections now increasing.
Mr. [António] Guterres said that many Governments face an impossible choice between servicing debt or saving lives, but he stressed that, in reality, there is just one choice: to take action to avert a global debt crisis.
The Secretary-General called for urgent action in six areas.
First, to make vaccines available to all countries in need; second, to reverse the fall in concessional financing; third, to make sure that funds go where they are needed most; fourth, to address the debt crisis with debt suspension, relief, and liquidity for countries that need it; fifth, to invest in people through a new social contract based on solidarity; and, lastly, to relaunch economies in a sustainable and equitable manner, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Those remarks have been shared with you.
Turning to Myanmar, I can tell you that the Secretary-General reiterates his deep concern about the developments in that country. The most recent reports of violence and killings by security forces are appalling.
The Security Council has clearly called for a stop to the violence and invited the parties to pursue dialogue and reconciliation. The Secretary-General encourages all Member States to use their influence to impress on the parties the need to stop this escalation and to take steps that will facilitate the return to civilian rule. He emphasizes the key role that the region can and must play in advising the national actors to take steps towards the return of peace and stability in Myanmar.
The United Nations Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, is currently in the region, where she is meeting with key interlocutors in order to promote an effective international response based on a unified regional effort. She remains ready to visit Myanmar at the earliest opportunity.
From Myanmar, our colleagues there said they are appalled by the violence since Friday in which some 93 protestors were reportedly killed, many of them in the city of Bago. The UN team in Myanmar says it is particularly concerned over reports of the use of heavy artillery against protestors.
The UN Human Rights Office says that, as of today, credible reports show at least 707 people have been killed since the military seized control of the Government more than two months ago. It is believed this may be significantly higher. Since 1 February, thousands of people have been injured, many of them seriously.
On Nigeria, the Secretary-General strongly condemns the reported attack by militants in Damasak town in Borno State that took place on 11 April, which resulted in five civilian deaths and the destruction of three humanitarian facilities. He expresses his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He calls on the Nigerian authorities to spare no efforts in identifying and swiftly bringing the perpetrators to justice.
For his part, Edward Kallon, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, said that humanitarian aid operations and facilities are the lifeline for people affected by violence and conflict in north-east Nigeria.
He said that these operations in Damasak will be reduced due to the violent attack. This will impact the support to 8,800 internally displaced people and 76,000 people in the host communities receiving humanitarian assistance and protection.
He called on armed parties to observe and commit to international humanitarian law and human rights law, and ensure the protection of civilians, humanitarian property, and personnel.
**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Turning to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the eruption of La Soufrière volcano has left the entire population of the island — that’s nearly 110,000 people — without clean water and electricity and about 20,000 people evacuated in need of shelter.
The eruption has affected most livelihoods in the northern part of the island, including banana farming, with ash and lava flows hampering the movement of people and goods.
Access to the island is limited.
We, along with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, have mobilized pre-positioned water and sanitation hygiene supplies that are currently in Barbados.
The Government has officially asked for UN assistance and, over the weekend, the Secretary-General spoke to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
UN assistance so far includes relief items, food and cash distribution and technical advice.
Neighbouring countries are contributing emergency supplies and assets to support evacuation.
**Security Council — Great Lakes
Back here, the Security Council this morning heard from Huang Xia, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region. He briefed Council members by videoconference from Nairobi. He spoke about the latest sociopolitical and security developments in the Great Lakes region.
Mr. Xia briefed Council members on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region. Among other issues, he also spoke on the progress in the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region, as well as on recent bilateral and multilateral cooperation initiatives.
His remarks have been shared with you.
Turning to Yemen, our good friend, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, is today in Berlin in Germany.
He met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and briefed senior officials from the permanent members of the Security Council, as well as the European Union, Germany, Kuwait and Sweden. He discussed the status of the current negotiating efforts to agree on a nationwide ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process.
Mr. Griffiths reiterated his call to the parties to seize this opportunity to negotiate in good faith and without preconditions. He stressed that this is a moment for decisions and responsible leadership.
Over the weekend, our other friend, Ján Kubiš, the Special Envoy for Libya, concluded a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
During the visit, Mr. Kubiš met with the UAE Foreign Affairs Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. They discussed the situation in Libya, including the positive developments that resulted in the creation of a unified Government and Presidency Council. Both agreed on the need to support the newly elected interim authority in Libya to achieve unity, stability, and prosperity.
Mr. Kubiš also discussed the situation in telephone conversations with the newly appointed Special Envoy of France for Libya, Paul Soler, and separately with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov.
From Timor-Leste, our team there on the ground, led by the Resident Coordinator, Roy Trivedy, is supporting local authorities following floods that have impacted Díli and other parts of the country.
The Government says there have been more than 30 deaths and more than 13,500 people are living in evacuation sites.
We have provided logistical support for the emergency response, as well as shelter materials, food, personal protective equipment and health services, among many others. We also helped carry out a rapid assessment to identify priority needs and are coordinating our response with donors, civil society, the media and others.
A quick COVAX update: As of today, nearly 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX have been shipped to 106 countries. More than 250 million doses have been allocated for shipment through May.
Guinea received more than 190,000 doses yesterday. A vaccination campaign started in the country last month, and the new batch of vaccines from COVAX will help immunize the most vulnerable, including frontline health workers, people over the age of 60, and those with comorbidities.
The UN team, led by our Resident Coordinator, Vincent Martin, will continue to support the Government’s vaccination campaign. The Resident Coordinator said that the vaccine will help address the COVID-19 pandemic similar to what was achieved with immunization in other health emergencies, such as Ebola.
**International Day of Human Space Flight
Today is a very important day. It is the International Day of Human Space Flight. The Day was declared by the General Assembly to celebrate the beginning of the space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving Sustainable Development Goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples.
On today’s date, 60 years ago, that was in 1961, was the date of the first human space flight, carried out by Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet citizen. This historic event opened the way for space exploration for the benefit of all humanity.
And today, the European Space Agency astronaut, Thomas Pesquet, was named the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Goodwill Ambassador. Mr. Pesquet will help FAO raise awareness about the importance of transforming the world’s agri-food systems, making them more resilient, inclusive, efficient and sustainable.
The French astronaut has been an advocate for action on climate change. He has used his experience of 196 consecutive days on board the International Space Station to highlight the need for unity on our “one Earth”.
I don’t think I could do 196 days here, but perhaps in the International Space Station. [laughter]
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. I have two questions. First, is the Secretary-General concerned about the explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran? And does he believe it has implications for the talks on the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on basically having the United States re-join?
Spokesman: We’ve seen the media reports about what happened in Iran. We have no particular comment on it.
Your second question I will leave to the analysts. We are, as we’ve always… our position on the talks going on in Vienna is unchanged. We are very supportive of these efforts to revive the JCPOA, which was always regarded as a very important diplomatic achievement.
Question: And secondly, the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) investigators have concluded, in a report issued today, that the Syrian air force was likely responsible for a chlorine gas attack on Saraqib in 2018. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen that particular report, but I’ll take a look and come back to you.
[Following the briefing, the Spokesman said the following: The Secretary-General has received the second report of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) and is deeply concerned by its findings.
The Secretary-General strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons and reiterates his position that the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, and under any circumstances is intolerable, and impunity for their use is equally unacceptable. It is imperative to identify and hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons.
All questions regarding the content and conclusions of the IIT’s second report should be directed to the OPCW Technical Secretariat in The Hague.]
Célhia, and then we’ll go to James.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Friday, I asked Farhan [Haq] how much of the 300,000 doses of COVAX sent to Libya would be reserved for migrants and displaced people. Do you have the figure? Because I… he should have given me the answer; he did not know.
Spokesman: I don’t have the figure, but I think what I need to tell you is that the… we’re supporting each Government. They then put a programme in place. We very much hope that all Governments follow the examples of… and I’ll just name two, and I think there are others. I think Jordan and, if I’m not mistaken, Mauritius have also reached… made sure that migrants and refugees are included. I mean, in the case of Jordan, it’s very important because they are the generous host of a large refugee population.
I think we would call on all Governments to ensure that anyone who is medically eligible and who lives on their territory, regardless of their status, have access to the vaccines. I mean, what we preach at the global level, that none of us are safe until all of us are safe, should also be done at the local level.
Question: I have… I would like to have an update on the investigation about the killing of the Italian ambassador in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Spokesman: I don’t have anything to share with you at this time, but I will check with our WFP (World Food Programme) colleagues.
Question: One follow-up and then two other questions, if I may. The follow-up is on what happened on Natanz. You said you have no statement on it. The Israelis aren’t even hiding their involvement. They’re briefing journalists that they carried out an attack to sabotage a nuclear plant that may well sabotage nuclear talks. Surely, that’s something the UN should condemn.
Spokesman: I understand. At this point, I do not have any comment on the media reports that we’ve seen.
Question: Okay. Moving to Afghanistan, you haven’t yet announced the talks in Turkey, which were widely slated to be taking place from the 16th. And even before you’ve announced it, the Taliban say they’re not going. A spokesman for their political bureau, Mohammad Naeem, says they will not be attending and are not ready. What is your reaction?
Spokesman: I’m still… to be honest with you, I’m still waiting for some official information I’m able to share with you on the talks.
Question: What about the fact the Taliban say that then… they… what… you can’t announce the talks, I understand that, but the Taliban’s saying they’re not taking part in talks, whenever they’re supposed to take place. That must be worrying, isn’t it? [cross talk]
Spokesman: We would want to see the largest possible participation.
Question: And one on Somalia, if I can. Developments in the last hour, the lower house of the Somali Parliament has… says it’s extending the President’s term for two more years. The Upper Chamber of the Somali Parliament says this is illegal and wants the international community to intervene. What’s the reaction of the UN?
Spokesman: I mean, we’ve seen these latest developments. I can tell you they are very concerning to us, what is going on in Somalia. As you say, they just happened in the last hour. We’re assessing what exactly has been decided and the impact and so on.
I think I… we will reiterate the position that we expressed, in fact, jointly over the weekend, along with the African Union, the European Union, IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development), expressing our concern about the political stalemate in the country and calling on Somali political leaders to return to dialogue to seek compromise on outstanding issues and continue the progress made in State-building and inclusive politics.
Question: Stéphane, I don’t know if you say anything about Cyprus. I missed you at some point. You disappeared from the screen. If you have anything on Mrs. [Jane Holl] Lute’s meetings in Nicosia. And second, if these pandemic restrictions — and I don’t know how they apply in Switzerland — affect at all the meeting for Cyprus on 25 to 27 April. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Three things. One, I can confirm that Jane Lute was… visited Cyprus on 10 and 11 April as a part of her consultations she’s carrying out on behalf of the Secretary-General with the two Cypriot leaders and the guarantor Powers. These consultations are in preparation for the informal meeting, the 5+1 meeting that will be held in Geneva and the Secretary-General plans to convene from 27 to 29 April. We… the meeting is going ahead in person.
We are very grateful to the Swiss authorities for their support in hosting… in allowing us to host the meeting at the UN premises. The Swiss have been very helpful to us in the past on hosting talks on all sorts of different issues.
And thirdly, I need to congratulate you on your new grandfatherhood and your new status as a grandfather, so congratulations.
Okay. On to, hopefully, continuing positive news — Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I know when the UN was established, the use of force or the threat of use… of the use of force was forbidden, and it’s the responsibility of the SG to speak out when there is a use of force or a threat of use… of the use of force. However, Israel has been taking pride in not only threatening to use… the use of force but also using force, both in Syria and Iran. However, we haven’t been seeing any statement or any kind of comment on these threats and not only threats but attacks. And Israel takes responsibility openly, yet no statement ever come from the SG to denying or to condemn or to comment even on these threats.
Spokesman: I didn’t hear a question mark, but I’ll still respond. [cross talk] You and I have to agree to disagree. On this particular incident, I said I have nothing to say as of yet. If you look back for the last four years, I think the Secretary-General has spoken out when Member States, wherever they may be, have threatened the use of force, have used force, and he has always called for calm and restraint in whatever part of the world.
Question: Just as a follow-up, just a few days ago, Stéphane, Israel attacked a place near Damascus, and they took responsibility of this attack. So, why there was no comment on that? [cross talk]
Spokesman: Yes. Look, we have always… in terms of Syria, we have always urged all the parties to exercise maximum restraint, and we will continue to do so.
Question: Hi, Steph. Thanks very much. As sort of a related question but given the multiple security incidents around the Middle East recently, which include the Red Sea incident, in addition to the Syrian air strikes as well, is the SG concerned about — I know that he hasn’t put out a statement but — concerned about conflict more widely in the region at the moment? That’s the first question.
And the second one is, large build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border — any SG concern about that tension specifically? Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes. I mean, we followed the reports of increased ceasefire violations, troop movements in Eastern Ukraine. We’re following these developments with concern. Our message to all the actors involved and all relevant actors is to exercise utmost restraint to avoid any actions and rhetoric that would further raise tensions. All outstanding issues should be and need to be addressed through dialogue.
We’re also increasingly concerned about the impact of the current tensions on the humanitarian situation. I think we’ve been briefing you regularly on that, and we underscore the importance of ensuring unimpeded, safe and effective humanitarian access across the contact line.
I mean, I think our last update dealt with water pumps that had been damaged in crossfire, and that has an immediate and, one can imagine, devastating impact on the lives of people.
As to your broader question, I mean, we have seen tensions over the last months and even broad… before being pretty high in the Gulf area, and we’ve always… our message has been clear that all concerned parties in the region should refrain from escalating the tensions.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Following up on questions about Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz, has IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), a specialized agency of the UN, said something about this serious matter?
Spokesman: I have not seen anything from the IAEA, but I would encourage you to look.
Question: Yes. Thank you very much. I’m still curious if the SG has any reaction to whether the many vaccines that are being distributed are effective. WHO (World Health Organization) says the national Governments have to verify them, which doesn’t really mean anything if they’re getting something for free, and I just wondered how you track what’s safe and what isn’t safe.
Spokesman: Well, I mean, the Secretary-General is not the one determining which vaccines are safe or not safe. There is… at a global level, at a WHO level, there is a process through which vaccines and the data from vaccine manufacturers is analysed and looked at, and then vaccines are approved or studied more for distribution through COVAX.
Every country, every Government, has a responsibility to do its own analysis and through its own public health agency. Okay?
All right. Oh, James. Sorry. We’ll go back, round two.
Question: Yeah. Couple of ones from me, if you don’t mind. First, on UAE, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights put out a statement to grave concern about Sheikha Latifa and the fact that they have not been shown even proof of life. Does the Secretary-General share this concern? Is he going to reach out in any way? Could he reach out directly to Sheik Mohammed on this issue?
Spokesman: This is an issue that the Human Rights Office has been following, and we follow their lead on this.
Question: And another question, the Secretary-General’s speech today was interesting in that it echoed the call that Mr. [David] Beasley’s been making some… for some time, that billionaires actually give some of their money to… whether it’s in a tax or whether in a donation.
Will the Secretary-General be having any conversations with the billionaire who works with… for him, Mr. [Michael] Bloomberg, about… because he’s one of the people who’s made vast amounts of money during the pandemic. Will he be talking to him about this and whether he should be putting his hand in his pocket?
Spokesman: I mean, whether or not he’s had that conversation, I don’t know, but I think that call applies to everyone who is in that category.
Okay. Speaking of the billionaire category, Amy, you are up. It’s so nice that you still work, you know? [laughter]