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.
All right. Sorry I am late. I was waiting for a statement, which I still don’t have. C’est la vie.
While I do expect a more formal statement, hopefully shortly, I can tell you of course that the Secretary-General is deeply saddened to hear about the passing of President Idriss Déby Itno of Chad this morning. He expresses his deepest condolences to the President’s family, as well as to the people and the Government of Chad. And as I said, I will have something a bit more formal later.
And just to give you some context on the humanitarian situation in Chad: The situation in the country is characterized by growing humanitarian needs linked to the conflict in the Lake Chad Basin, as well as the effects of climate change.
We, along with our partners, are continuing our operations in the country to assist impacted communities.
The humanitarian response plan for Chad is seeking $617 million this year. To date, it is only 6 per cent funded. We urge the international community to provide financial support to meet the needs of people in need.
From January to September last year, just to give you some information, we reached at least 2.2 million people with humanitarian assistance in the country. And Chad is also host to a number of refugee communities from bordering countries, as you know.
Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General participated virtually in a meeting of the Libya Quartet, which brings together the UN, the African Union, the European Union and the League of Arab States.
In an interactive session, he made clear that after years of violence and suffering, there is a window of opportunity in Libya, but urgent and immediate actions are needed to make use of this window.
The parties of the Quartet are expected to issue a joint communiqué later this afternoon, which we will of course share with you.
Turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that intensified fighting continues across front-line areas in Marib Governorate, leading to large waves of displacement since early February.
Nearly 20,000 people were displaced in Marib between 8 February and 10 April. Most of those forced to flee are among the 1 million displaced people who already live in the Governorate – the largest displacement population in Yemen.
The most urgent needs of the newly displaced families include shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene, health and protection assistance.
We, along with our humanitarian partners, continue to scale up the response to prepare for potential further escalations as more than 105,000 people are projected to be displaced by this September if the fighting continues.
Yemen continues to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and our largest aid operation. The Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen seeks $3.85 billion to help 16 million people this year. To date, the Plan is only 21 per cent funded.
And the UN Country Team in Myanmar once more calls on security forces to immediately refrain from violence and to keep children and young people out of harm’s way. According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), at least 52 children, including seven girls and 45 boys, have reportedly been killed in the hands of security forces over the past 11 weeks.
To date, 741 women, children and men have been killed since the military seized control of Myanmar on 1 February. That is according to our Human Rights Office, while thousands more have been injured.
We continue to call on the military authorities to respect the will of the people, to respect democratic institutions and processes, and to restore the democratically elected Government of Myanmar.
**Central African Republic
And the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is telling us that, yesterday, the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin Archange Touadera, officially launched a 10-day national consultation, which brings together national institutions, local authorities, political parties, civil society, as well as religious and traditional leaders.
The consultations aim to allow the participants to express their priorities, concerns and recommendations on ways to better sustain peace in the country, prior to the launch of a broader national dialogue initiative.
The Mission is providing political and technical support to this initiative and calls on all parties to play a positive role to advance the peace process.
Meanwhile, the country’s Constitutional Court proclaimed the final results of the 14 March legislative elections. Following the results of the legislative elections in December and March, 91 of the 140 seats in the National Assembly for the next legislature are now filled. New legislative elections will be held on 23 May to fill the 49 remaining seats.
And I was asked about the situation in Cabo Verde, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General welcomes the holding of the 18 April legislative elections in the country. He commends all stakeholders for the peaceful and smooth conduct of the campaigns and polls, which further demonstrate Cabo Verde’s strong democratic culture.
A couple of Venezuela related notes: As you may have seen, the World Food Programme (WFP) has reached an agreement with the Government to commence operations with the priority of serving the most vulnerable children.
WFP will provide nutritious meals to children, particularly in pre-primary and special education schools, as well as invest in the rehabilitation of school canteens and training school staff on food safety practices.
WFP operation will reach up to 185,000 children by the end of the year. Through a phased scale-up, WFP will aim to provide daily meals to 1.5 million students by the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
Its expected annual budget of $190 million is part of the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan.
And on a related note, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) today said that more than 50,000 Venezuelans have been relocated from Brazil’s isolated northern Roraima state to 675 different Brazilian cities.
The relocation strategy is part of the Government’s “Operation Welcome”, which aims to foster integration by helping refugees and migrants find new job opportunities in other cities.
The two agencies are supporting the relocations, including by screening all refugees and migrants for COVID-19, funding travel costs, finding adequate reception facilities for people with specific needs and funding infrastructure improvements and other programme expenses.
More information online.
Daily COVAX update: Jordan received the second shipment of over 140,400 doses two days ago, raising the total number of vaccines received through COVAX to 290,000.
In addition, more than $9.6 million have been made available by the European Union to support authorities to buy the COVAX-backed vaccines through an initiative with the World Health Organization (WHO) and authorities to support vulnerable Jordanians, as well as Syrian refugees. As you recall, Jordan is including its refugees in the COVAX, in the vaccination campaign, which is great.
Also, UN-Women just signed a $1.2 million agreement with Italy to empower vulnerable women in Jordan, including Syrian refugees. For its part, UNICEF continues to support risk communications efforts to boost vaccination.
And Namibia received 24,000 vaccines a few days ago. The Government rolled out the second phase of the vaccination campaign yesterday targeting people aged 65 years and older, and other at-risk groups.
Guinea-Bissau received 28,800 vaccine doses last week. This shipment will protect the most vulnerable, including health-care workers on the front lines. The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Mamadou Diallo, remains committed to supporting the Government for the timely distribution of the vaccines and ensure equitable access for everyone.
**ECOSOC Vaccine for All
And on a vaccine related note, our friends in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) wanted to flag that there is a high-level meeting on “A Vaccine for All”… that, following the “A Vaccine for All” that took place last week, 180 countries endorsed “The Political Declaration on Equitable Global Access to COVID-19 Vaccines.”
The Declaration expresses the need for global solidarity and multilateral cooperation to massively expand manufacturing capacity of vaccines globally, and especially in low- and middle-income countries, among other things.
The meeting also stressed the need to strengthen health systems and advance towards universal health coverage.
**Chinese Language Day
Today, very important day, is Chinese Language Day. Language Days at the UN seek to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, as well as to promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization.
Chinese was established as an official language of the UN in 1946. Learning Chinese remains on my “to do” list.
And finally, we say thank you very much to our friends in Saint Lucia for full payment of the regular budget. Our friendly friends in Saint Lucia helped us to bring the list to 90 [fully paid-up Member States].
See if I’ve been sent anything of importance. Okay. Let’s take some questions.
**Questions and Answers
Célhia and then James.
Question: Stéphane, about Chad, what has the death of Idriss Déby mean for the G5 Sahel force? And is it fair to say, in light of what happened, that the G5 Sahel has failed its initial job?
Spokesman: No, I… listen, I’m not going to get into the… this kind of analysis but to say that the G5 Sahel is critical in its… in the work that it does throughout the region.
We, from our end, have tried to support it as best we can. We have also called, right from the beginning, for more predictable funding and support of the G5 Sahel.
President Déby died early this morning. The impact that it will have, I think that will be for others to predict. I mean, Chad is a critical partner of the UN within the complex region that it… where it’s located, notably the Sahel. We’re, obviously, watching the situation very closely as it unfolds.
Question: But the US Embassy has been evacuated like a few hours ago, which mean that it’s going to get bad.
Spokesman: Well, we very much hope it doesn’t… it is not going to get bad. I think this is an important moment for Chadians to strengthen national cohesion and to work together for the stability of their country.
Question: As you mentioned, it’s a very volatile region. Tell us what the Secretary-General has been doing with regard to this since he heard the news of what’s happened in Chad? And does he believe the Security Council should now meet?
Spokesman: Look, we’ll see what the Security Council decides to do. I know the Secretary-General had a conversation earlier today with the Chair of the African Union Commission, Mahamat Moussa Faki. He has been kept abreast of the… being kept abreast of the situation, and we’re, obviously, in touch with our colleagues on the ground.
Question: As you know, this follows elections, which were themselves not particularly free and fair. What does the UN think should happen now? I mean, I know the situation on the ground is still very fluid, but should there be fresh, free elections now?
Spokesman: Look, there is a constitutional order, which should be respected, and I think it’s important at this moment for Chadian political leaders to ensure the safety of the population and the stability of the country.
Question: One last one on Chad, if I can. About the UN presence in Chad, the borders of the country, according to the US State Department, have now all been closed. The airport’s been closed. How… what is the UN presence in Chad? How concerned are you about the safety of the UN staff in Chad? Who is leading the UN operation in Chad? And what are they actually doing to ascertain… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Sure. The UN presence in Chad is about 1,800 staff, both national and internationals. We, obviously, rely on the Chadian authorities to ensure the safety and security of our staff. We also are doing our own security assessment, and we’re watching the situation hour by hour.
Question: Thank you very much, Stéphane. As usual, I have one question about Iraq and the other one about Syria. And the first one on Iraq is the President of Kurdistan region sent a letter to Secretary-General asking greater UN role in term of many outstanding issues, including UN help with regulating the elections, the upcoming elections in Iraq, and a mediation, a greater UN role in mediation between Baghdad and Erbil. This follows another request in January from the Iraqi Prime Minister. So, Iraq is basically asking for greater UN role.
What is the Secretary-General’s response for these multiple requests? [cross talk]
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I’m aware that the letters have been sent to the Security Council because it would involve a change in mandate in terms of the requests, so we’ll have to see what the Security Council does.
As you know, UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq) does not have an observation mandate. However, UNAMI does have a very comprehensive political mandate to provide advice, to provide support and assistance to the Government and people of Iraq in advancing an inclusive political dialogue, national and community-based reconciliation and, of course, the implementation of the constitutional provisions, as well as the development processes to resolve disputed internal boundaries.
I think the adoption of the… recently of the 2021 budget is to be welcomed, and we very much hope that the authorities… the federal authorities and Kurdistan Regional Government will build on this positive development to continue to reach a durable agreement on outstanding issues.
Obviously, the Head of the Mission, the whole Mission remains ready to support and assist the dialogue between the federal authorities and the Kurdistan Regional Government in any way.
Question: And on Syria, there are reports that city of Hasakah, the big city in north-east Syria, has been… the water supply has been, again, cut off for weeks now, and there is a serious water shortage. And the local authorities, they accuse the Turkish-backed jihadi opposition groups of cutting it for political reasons. Any reaction to this?
Spokesman: I don’t have any details of that particular situation, but we have always stood very firmly against any use of water as a weapon of war, so to speak. People should not cut off water, basic supplies as a way to pressure populations anywhere in the world.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Alan Bulkaty?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There are media reports that the meeting on Afghanistan, which is to be held in Istanbul is postponed due to refusal of Taliban. Do you have anything on this? Thank you.
Spokesman: What I can tell you is that the United Nations, along with the co-conveners, Qatar, Turkey, we’re continuing to engage with representatives of both the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban on ways to strengthen and add impetus to the intra-Afghan negotiations.
Deborah Lyons was in Doha throughout last week, discussing with Afghan parties the best way the international community can support them in making progress on their negotiations toward a just and durable political settlement.
Our focus will continue to be on progress in intra-Afghan negotiations, which is a critical part of the way forward.
Question: But I mean, in particular, on this meeting, can you confirm the fact that it’s postponed? [cross talk]
Spokesman: I cannot. Okay.
Question: On the same subject, what is the new Special Envoy is doing on Afghanistan? I mean the French one. Thank you.
Spokesman: The French one… there are a lot of French ones. I assume you mean Jean Arnault. Yeah. He is maintaining his close contacts with UN Headquarters and with Deborah Lyons, and he’ll continue to work with all stakeholders at this point.
Okay. Toby, I think you had a question?
Question: Yes. Thank you very much, Steph. Can we just have an update on the activities of the Myanmar Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener? Is she able to get into Myanmar?
Spokesman: So, she is out of her mandatory — what do you call it?
Spokesman: Thank you. Out of her mandatory quarantine in Bangkok, but she remains in Thailand. She has been in touch with various regional entities, but she, right now, remains in Bangkok. I may have an update for you on her, either later today or tomorrow but no… just so as not to raise any expectations, no breaking news on any travel to Myanmar itself.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have also three questions, and I start with Chad. Does the UN qualify what happened in Chad as a military coup in any way? Do you receive any information that indicates… that may indicate that this is a coup, military coup, similar to what happened in Myanmar? [cross talk]
Spokesman: No, it’s not the word I would use. I mean, all I know is what you know from media reports. It looks like the… so, I have the same facts. I… that’s not a word I would use.
Spokesman: Your second question?
Question: My second question, do you confirm that the Ethiopian Government sent a letter to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council President, asking Egypt and Sudan to go back to the African Union mediation?
Spokesman: I will… let me check. I’d seen the reports on that. I haven’t been able to check whether we got that letter, but I will check.
Question: And my last question, on Yemen: Last week, after Mr. Martin Griffiths met with Omani officials, there was some hope that the mediation is still alive, but it looks like now the only voices we hear are those voices of the guns. Does Martin Griffiths now stand up to the fact there is… only the military option is on the table and no… [cross talk]
Spokesman: No. If… the military outcome is not an option. Sadly, in these cases, the most noise comes from the battlefield. What we want to see is a silencing of the guns throughout Yemen.
Mr. Griffiths is continuing to engage actively in the furtherance of that goal. I think he briefed the Security Council in great… in detail last week. He will continue… and he will continue to do that.
I think to qualify the mediation as dead would be, in my mind, the wrong analysis.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Thank you. Two questions. One on the upcoming Cyprus talks. Will the SG himself travel to Geneva next week?
And also, on Libya, when do you think the UN will deploy the monitors to Libya for the ceasefire? Thank you.
Spokesman: On the monitors, we have the approval from the Security Council. The logistical and operational… I can’t speak today. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. [laughter]
The operational and logistical preparations are being made. As soon as we can deploy, we will, and I will keep you posted.
On Geneva, yes, he is hosting, and he will be hosting in person.
Question: When exactly is he going to travel, Steph? Can you just give us the… [cross talk]
Spokesman: He will travel likely over the weekend and be in Geneva starting Monday.
Question: I have a new question, and then I have a few follow-ups. First, how concerned is the Secretary-General about the medical condition of Alexei Navalny, the most prominent political prisoner in Russia?
Spokesman: We’re following the situation of Mr. Navalny with concern. We trust that the Russian authorities will provide him with the needed medical care.
Question: Follow-up on the Special Envoy for Myanmar, currently in Thailand, not that far from Jakarta, where there will be an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit this weekend: Is she planning to go? Is she invited?
Spokesman: That’s one of the updates I hope to bring to you later today or tomorrow.
Question: Okay. And back to Afghanistan, you told us that the Special Representative, Deborah Lyons, had been in Doha and speaking to the parties there. She’s also in charge of the Mission on the ground in the country, UNAMA. So, it does beg the question then, what is Jean Arnault’s job? Could you further explain? Because we are not clear at all on what the division of labour between these two envoys is.
Spokesman: Mr. Arnault, due to a personal health matter, is not engaging as much as he would like to be.
Question: Steph, thank you. It’s been a long time that we have… we don’t know anything about the fate of the tanker off the coast of Yemen. Any progress on the negotiations to fix it?
Spokesman: Well, I think, as Mr. [Mark] Lowcock said to the Security Council last week, we are a little bit more optimistic. We’ve been there before. There are a couple of things that need to be… still need to be ironed out from the Ansar Allah-Houthi camp, but we’re… I think we’re a little bit more optimistic.
That remains - that the risk of a major ecological and environmental disaster remains for as long as we are not aboard that ship.
Okay. We shall see each other tomorrow, hopefully closer to noon.